Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens


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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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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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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 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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Curious Canadian Cemeteries: South side / Old Non-Denominational Burial Ground, Ferryland, Newfoundland.

This site is near and dear to my little heart, perched on the hill west of the historic site of the Colony of Avalon at Ferryland, Newfoundland. It was one of the sites I explored during my MA thesis (see my publications for a link to the thesis, or wait a few months for the book!), and come to think of it I could very easily populate this series with all NL sites from my thesis research. Would anyone want to read that? Maybe?

Exposed to the often harsh and relentless winds of the North Atlantic ocean, anyone visiting graves in Ferryland in the 18th and 19th centuries would have had an unobstructed view of any passing ice bergs or whales!

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View of the Colony of Avalon from the burial ground (photo by author 2015)

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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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Curious Canadian Cemeteries: Brick Street Cemetery, London, ON

It’s that time again friends, where we sit down to highlight yet another one of Canada’s Curious Canadian Cemeteries. Today, lets take a little look at the Brick Street Cemetery in London, Ontario, its history, ongoing protection, and its stone carvers.

I have only visited this site once myself, during London’s Door’s Open event several weeks ago. Doors Open is an event where historic sites and buildings around a city will open their doors free of charge to the public, and it’s a great way to go see museums and heritage sites in your community that you might not otherwise have a chance (or the funds) to visit! We visited several historic sites around town over the course of the weekend, but spent the most time at the Brick Street Cemetery.
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