Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens


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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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Gravestone Conservation 2019: Week 3

Goodness it’s been a busy week, and I’ve learned so much! We took on some cool repairs, cleaned some neat stones, and answered some questions from the public along the way too! It was a pretty good time overall, and I can’t believe we are nearly halfway through the program (thank you to Canada Summer Jobs program to opening your funding up to young people who aren’t going back to school this fall, me and everyone else really appreciate it!!).

There are a few new posts from the last week over at the Woodland Cemetery history blog, about children’s gravestones and our first ‘solo expedition‘ setting a broken gravestone! But it’s time for a review of the entire week, lets get into it!

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Gravestone Conservation 2019: Week 1

Hello friends, today I’d like to tell you about the first week at my new spring/summer job. I was overjoyed to have recently been hired for a short-term contract at Woodland Cemetery as a Monument Conservator! The job is funded through Canada Summer Jobs program (which isn’t just for students, folks!), so thank you to that wonderful funding that is allowing me to spend eight weeks training to do something I’ve wanted to do for a while…restore and conserve historic burial markers. I feel like I’m living in a burial archaeology dream world right now!

If you want to follow along with the cemetery’s heritage blog, check it out HERE!

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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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