Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens


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The Old Durham Cemetery: Exploring the early 18th-century

For Easter holiday this year, we had the fortune of traveling to Connecticut to visit my partner’s family, eat a lot of chocolate, and (of course) explore some historic burial grounds. Since this was a short trip we only made it to two, and today I’d like to take you on a little tour of the Old Durham Cemetery in Durham, CT, which opened in 1700!

The modern name of the site includes the word ‘cemetery’ but as you may already know, that term wasn’t utilized in North America until the 1830s, so I’ll continue this post referring to it as a ‘burial ground’ unless using the site’s name. xxx20190421_103722 Continue reading


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Evolution of roman lettering in Newfoundland: A case study at Belvedere Roman Catholic Cemetery, St. John’s, Newfoundland

Today’s post is based on ongoing research that started as a prompt for a term paper in grad school. I’ve been conducting research on roman lettering development on upright gravestones for some time (there is a paper on the way, I swear. It’s bogged down in reviewer/edits land but it will be out there eventually!), and this research was based on my interest in the development of lettering styles on gravestones. More specifically, the development of lettering styles carved in a ‘remote’ area, that might not have access to lettering books or script trends as carvers in more urban centres in the British Isles were. Lets delve in, shall we?

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St. John’s Harbour (photo by author 2016)

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When is a grave no longer a grave?

This is a topic I’ve discussed with colleagues on several occasions, and most recently in a really engaging thread on twitter: When is a grave…no longer a grave? If ever, at what point might that happen? There isn’t one definitive answer to this question, and the understanding of a grave, its significance, and longevity are rooted in our backgrounds, cultures, and society.  I’ve finally found some time to sit down and write up the results of the discussion, and share some thoughts with you all.

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Imported gravestones from Massachusetts in Atlantic Canada & examples from Cambridge (One common skull, continued)

Previously on this blog I have discussed what I like to call the “one common skull”. It is a death’s head design, a name given to a motif with a central winged skull, sometimes with crossed bones nearby, or an hourglass, or any other mortality symbol really, and was popular through the 17th and 18th centuries on gravestones throughout eastern North America. The use of mortality symbols in the colonial period draws inspiration from the medieval use of these same symbols to remind viewers of their mortality and was popular across many different groups, not because Puritans were particularly morbid.

If you missed the previous posts and want to catch up, you can read about Outsourcing Monuments in Newfoundland or a small case study at the Old Burying Point in Salem, MA by clicking those links. Then come back and join us here!

This style of gravestone is particularly interesting to me because it is everywhere on the Atlantic coast, throughout the colonial period! While mortuary archaeologists and art historians can say that this style, characterized by the central winged skull with a V-shaped nose in the lunette, small finials with a circular design inside, and the same leafy and circular pattern down the borders around the central text, originated in Massachusetts, it seems like we still don’t know who the carver (or school of carvers) was who is responsible. I don’t have an answer for that yet, but I do want to take a closer look at the chronology of the style in MA compared to imported varieties in Atlantic Canada.
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View of the Putnam Burying Ground, Saratoga Springs, New York State

A little while ago, we went on a mini-holiday to Saratoga Springs, NY, for the Canada Day long weekend.  I was very excited to do several things I’ve always wanted to do in Saratoga:

a) Visit some of the springs / drink out of them
b) See a burial ground (literally any, how did I miss doing this last time I was there?)
c) swim in the Victoria pool (this one was added a few weeks before the trip when I found out the pool existed. Totally worth the trip!)

Welcome to the Putnam Burying Ground, which we did not think to call ahead to and therefore couldn’t actually go inside!

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View of the Putnam Burial Ground from the street, with the Putnam Family Plot to the left of centre (photo by author, 2018)

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Curious Canadian Cemeteries: The Rockwood Cemetery, Rockwood, Ontario

Hello burial team, it’s finally time for another addition of Curious Canadian Cemeteries! This week we are looking at the Rockwood Cemetery, in the settlement of Rockwood, Township of Guelph/Eramosa, Wellington County, Ontario. This is my first ‘close-to-me’ cemetery that I’ll be covering!

I’ve talked about Rockwood before on this blog, when I posted about John Harris, my great x4 grandfather, who helped found the current settlement of Rockwood, and Thomas Harris, my great x3 grandfather who constructed Harris Woolen Mill with his brother and brother-in-law. The Mill is still present today by the Eramosa River as a ruin that can be visited and explored! Those very same relatives were buried in the the Rockwood Cemetery. 

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The sign & chapel at the Rockwood Cemetery (photo by author, 2018)

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Curious Canadian Cemeteries: St. Saviour’s Anglican Cemetery, Penticton, British Columbia.

Hello there, death and burial aficionados! I come to you today with a new series that I’m starting on Spade & the Grave called ‘Curious Canadian Cemeteries’ (cemeteries because it works for the 3 C’s, not because I totally agree with the term for all sites). Recently, I’ve noticed that a lot of publications that talk about burial sites around the world tend to gloss over Canadian sites, and I’d love to bring a few of the amazing burial grounds across the country into a bit of the spotlight! So if you have any interesting suggestions, I’d love to hear them! I’m going to try to make this either a weekly or bi-weekly feature on the blog, amidst other posts as I think of them.

Burial grounds, graveyards, cemeteries…whatever the terminology is for the site, every one holds a unique history and place within the landscape. While large, famous sites like Mount Auburn Cemetery or the Granary in Boston see visitors every day due to their publicity (and amazing monuments), there are hundreds of smaller burial grounds across North America and the world, that have just as rich of a back story, but might not be quite so obvious to the burial ground visitor on the go. Sites like these were meant to be visited, cared for, and enjoyed. They were created for the living just as much as the dead, and visiting historical burial grounds isn’t morbid. So without further adieu, lets virtually visit some unique burial grounds, from across Canada!

For my first post in the series, I wanted to feature a graveyard from one of my childhood homes, and the place that I lived in for the longest:
Penticton, British Columbia.

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Penticton, BC, viewed from Munson Mountain (photo by author 2018)

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