Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens


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Burial by the Sea: Historical Burial Ground excavation in Newfoundland

From 2016 – 2017, I was involved in a project to excavate a settler burial ground in Foxtrap, Newfoundland. The excavation was run by Dr. Vaughan Grimes and Maria Lear of the Archaeology Department at Memorial University of Newfoundland, and is under an active archaeological permit through the Provincial Archaeology Office (PAO) of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador throughout post-excavation analysis. A handful of graduate students, including myself, made up the rest of the field crew.

Based on local knowledge and the PAO investigation of the site in 2006, we were already aware that there was likely a burial ground at this location, based on the several erect and laying markers and fragments of gravestone with inscribed text. While no single record appears to exist for who was buried at this site, and it only had one gravestone with inscriptions on it, the identities of most of the individuals interred there will likely remain a mystery (and that one gravestone was broken and out of situ so we have no idea whose grave it belongs to). Plans are already afoot to re-inter the remains nearby once they have been cleaned and studied.

I am honoured to have been part of the team exhuming this site, as it was the first full historical settler burial ground to be excavated in the province, and so much about early populations could (and will) be learned from those who were buried there.
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Burial Ground Conservation – Do’s & Don’ts

Nov19_2Hello readers! It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written anything on here, but don’t let that make you think I’ve not been working away in heritage, no sir! In fact, since I last posted on, I graduated with my MA (focus on Historical Archaeology), moved to Ontario, and started a new job as a Cultural Heritage Specialist. Need a heritage building assessed, or a burial ground examined (or conservation plans for either)? Give me a shout!

Now that I’ve mentioned burial grounds (because what kind of death & archaeology blog would this be if that wasn’t what I was talking about), I wanted to discuss something that comes up a lot when discussing burial sites, historic or modern, with members of the public: Conservation in the burial ground. By that I mean practices that will help preserve the integrity and survival of the site, but also for the gravestones themselves as an important aspect of the space and a document about those buried in it.
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New Perlican: Blank Gravestones & Mapping

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Myself, mapping away on our plan of St. Mark’s! Photo by Ian Petty

Yesterday I headed back to New Perlican with Ian Petty (2nd year MA student in Archaeology at MUN) to meet up with Dr. Shannon Lewis-Simpson from Memorial University of Newfoundland in order to continue with the surveying of the St. Mark’s historic burial ground. The weather was not ideal and I was hard-pressed to remember if we’d used a plastic drafting film or normal paper to draw the map on in the first place, so with rain in the forecast our fingers were crossed!

I wanted to go get as much of the burial ground mapped as possible before the rain set in…and before I had to start my new job! There will be more details on that major life change later though, this post is still about the burial ground in New Perlican.
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‘These are grave terms’ – terminology in historic mortuary archaeology (for colonial North America)

First of all, I’d like to start by acknowledging that my last post was two weeks ago and my reason for not posting more frequently is: a) the job hunt, and b) I have been madly finishing a paper and my thesis..which was submitted yesterday officially! Yay!

I thought it would be nice, and relevant to do a post today discussing terminology for burial spaces and monuments. The terms I’d like to go over have some history to them of course, but like anything, they can take on different meaning depending on who is using them and where they are in the world. For the purposes of this discussion, I’m looking exclusively at colonial North America because that is my current study area, and dealing with basically only British/Irish, Christian (Catholic/Anglican/Quaker/Puritan,etc) burial spaces at this point. (I’m looking forward to seeing how these change as I go back in time a bit for PhD research in a few years)

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Hartford, CT burial ground, facing the later-added church. Photo by author, 2015

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Inscribed Letters & Protective Marks – The Case of the W

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Pitkin headstone, 1694 (vandalized), Hartford, CT. Note the VV style W. Photo by author, 2016.

Inscribed text is something that I’ve been passionate about studying ever since my first field school as a little baby undergraduate student. Recording gravestones in a rainy July in Ireland, I pieced together fragments of words that no one had read out loud for decades and recorded them onto my forms, creating a record once more for a nearly-erased gravestone. In doing so, I became fascinated by the way that letter forms evolved and were adapted through history, from inscribed letters in stone, to calligraphy, to typeface for printing presses which has become our digital text today!

Several years ago I conducted a project funded by the P.U.R.E Grants through the University of Calgary to explore the way in which letters erode from the face of gravestones, during which I spent a lot of time sitting in the rain with my waterproof notebooks, drawing letters using a hash-line system I developed to represent different stages of erosion. It’s a whole thing. The paper which resulted from this project is currently in peer-review, and I wanted discuss in part, one of the aspects of the project in conjunction with my recent interest in ritual protection marks. In this case, the letter W, and their use in inscriptions and as protective markings.

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One Common Skull – A case study at Old Burying Point, Salem, MA.

I recently had the pleasure of visiting some of the historic burial grounds in Salem, Massachusetts during my recently holiday to the area. I was particularly excited to visit Salem because it was not only an important site in the history of colonial New England, but it was a part of the survey I did of settlements for my MA research so getting to see it in person was a real treat! I decided to use the opportunity as a case study to investigate a particularly popular gravestone design.
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Temporary Graves – Burial in Luxembourg & the Transmortality Conference 2017

I recently had the honour of presenting some of my research at the Transmortality Conference in Luxembourg City, Luxembourg. The conference dealt with the themes of materiality and spatiality of death and dying historically and in modernity, and as my research mainly deals with spatial aspects of burial landscapes, I was beyond excited to attend and present at the conference, and chat with like-minded researchers from all over the world!
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The Transmortality project is being conducted by¬†Universit√© du Luxembourg, and if you’re interested in their work, there will be a special issue of the journal Mortality coming out on the theme in 2019. More information on the project can be found here: https://transmortality.uni.lu/
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