Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens


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Photography of Gravestones for a Historic Survey: A How-To Guide

This weekend, as the leaves are starting to change colour across Ontario, I have been thinking about gravestones (are you surprised?). More specifically, taking excellent photos for your historic survey of a burial ground. Of course, you can take photos any way you see fit, but this blog post is a guide to taking standard grave marker photos that optimise light, angle, and people that you have helping with the survey. Below, you will find examples of best practices for standardised gravestone photography, and some good examples of *not* to do.

I hope you can find some helpful tips in this post to take to your next project, or to share with a community that you are working with! All the photographs in this blog post were taken by me, unless otherwise noted.

The author kneeling to photograph a headstone (photo by Ian Petty 2020)
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Book Review: Changing Landscapes in Urban British Churchyards.

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This post is a formal review of the newly published ‘Changing Landscapes in Urban British Churchyards’ by S.E. Thornbush and Mary J. Thornbush (2020), for Bentham Science Publishers, Singapore.

While academic and public interest books on burial grounds are often published, they tend to only consider the gravestones, and not the spatiality of the burial ground. This book by Sylvia E. Thornbush and Mary J. Thornbush examines gravestones within multiple east coast cities in England and Scotland, as well as the sites’ locality. However, for a text that is titled ‘changing landscapes’, I was hoping for more of a study of the sites as landscapes and spaces over the gravestones.

The sites focused on in this book are situated close to the coast, as to examine the effects of coastal erosion on headstone legibility and weathering rates, although other sites, such as York, were also selected based on the quantity of gravestones available for examination. The goal of the research was to compare the classic Dethlefsen & Deetz 1966 iconographic study (reprinted: Deetz 1977) to trends in the UK. The authors note that there are linguistic features which marked ‘Puritanism’ used on epitaphs, as well as within the iconography. However the iconography, in particular the ‘Death’s Head’ is still wrongly associated with specifically Puritan beliefs. The main goal of the study is stated as looking for differences in style of headstones in England and Scotland from the C17th-C19th after the Protestant Reformation, and how were they distinct from those found in C19th New England.

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Pinning Historic Gravestones: A case for wood pins

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Example of an old rusted iron pin, Woodland Cemetery.

Yesterday I went for a social-distancing walk at Woodland Cemetery, visited a few repairs that we did last summer (all are holding up well!), and made note of a few gravestones that have suffered some new damage. One of these stones was one that was repaired a few years earlier by another team, using one of the pinning methods that is accepted as a safe conservation technique for historic gravestones.

Historically, gravestones that had pins in them were attached together using iron, lead, or copper. The issues with the iron pins is, of course, that they can easily rust the moment moisture gets into the space, which in turn will cause the stone to crack from the inside. This damage is difficult to repair, which is why we don’t use these anymore! In place of iron, stainless steel pins have been used in more recent decades to hold broken stones together, and more recently these are being replaced with fibreglass rods. However, these materials, while they don’t rust, they have their own issues.

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Curious Canadian Cemeteries: Ellis Chapel, Puslinch Township, Wellington County, ON

It’s been a while for this series, hasn’t it? Today we will be exploring a historically very rural site, the Ellis Chapel, which is located in Puslinch Township, Wellington County, Ontario. The chapel can be accessed from the parking lot of the Cambridge On Route off the 401, west-bound, or from Ellis Road. The address of the site is: 6705 Ellis Rd, Cambridge, ON, N3C 2V4.

While this site is mostly known for its historic, coursed masonry chapel, constructed in 1861, the grounds include a small graveyard. Let’s take a closer look!

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Rear of the chapel, as seen from the south (photo by author 2020).

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Holiday (/Conference) Diaries: SHA 2020 Boston, MA

Fresh off the airplane from Boston, and back to the blog! This past week I had the pleasure of attending the Society for Historical Archaeology’s (SHA) 2020 Annual Meeting in Boston, MA. It was my first SHA conference, and definitely one of the largest conferences I’ve had the change to attend so far, and it was such a wonderful experience! Of course, we did some touristing while we were in town…and most of the talks I attended had everything to do with colonial burials & settlements!

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Back Back, Boston MA

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Podcast appearance: The Arch & Anth Podcast

Hello friends! Recently, I recorded a podcast episode for The Arch & Anth Podcast, with Dr. Michael Rivera. We chatted about my research in death and burial, work in CRM archaeology, and gravestone conservation. It was lovely, and the episode is out now!

You can listen to the episode by clicking on the link below, or by looking for the podcast on Spotify, Stitcher, iTunes, etc.

Episode 91: What is involved in cultural resource management, cemetery conservation and public archaeology? 

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Hanging out with Samuel Dale at Brickstreet Cemetery.

 


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Gravestone Conservation 2019: Week 8ish

Dear reader, can you hardly believe that it’s been a full 2 months of gravestone conservation work and training? Because I definitely can’t! It both feels like I started this job yesterday, and that I’ve been doing it forever. It’s what the heart wants! I’m happily writing this post on a Wednesday, that also happens to coincide with #AskanArchaeologist day! So at the end of this post, if you have any archaeology-related questions about historical burial archaeology, gravestone conservation, what else I research, etc., please don’t hesitate to ask!

Lets jump right into the last week+ at Woodland, shall we?

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Good evening, from one of Woodland’s fawns!

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Gravestone Conservation: Week 7

My goodness, what a whirlwind these past 7 weeks have been! With only one week to go, I can’t believe I’m nearly finished with these weekly(ish) blog updates of my training and work as a gravestone conservator. Here we go people, I can fix gravestones and know more about stone than I did two months ago! Does anyone want me to talk about stones forever…because too late, I’m never going to stop!

It was an exciting and productive week at the cemetery, so lets dive in! It was only a four-day week because last Monday was Canada Day, so I’m pretty impressed with all the things we got done.

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Meagan & Thomas, archivist/historians, preparing for the July 6 tours.

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Gravestone Conservation 2019: Week 5 & 6

There has been a lot of work going on over the last two weeks! So much that last weekend was super busy and I didn’t have time to write a blog post. I went to a bridal shower, worked on an article for ages (& finnnNALly submitted it), visited a cottage with my friends, and did a bunch of other things. Bye weekends, I hardly knew you!

You’ll all be pleased to know we only had like 2 rain days over the last two weeks, so there is a little more to talk about! We fixed so many stones, uncovered some extra dramatic stories, did a couple tours, worked with a practicum student, went of a tree-tour of the cemetery, and fought with the drill! That last part doesn’t sound as dramatic to you as it was, but stay with me…

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Tools of the trade!

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Gravestone Conservation 2019: Week 4

If you’ve been following my work for a little while you’ll know that I like to chronicle my fieldwork experiences when possible! I’m just here assuming that everyone is enjoying these, because there are 4 more weeks to go!

I can’t believe that it has already been 4 weeks, and that this experience is already halfway finished! I’m going to take what I’ve learned at the cemetery with me as I continue my burial ground research and work in the future.

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