Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens


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Spade & the Grave x Archaeology Now: Tiny Lecture Series

Hello readers, I hope you are having a lovely weekend and first day of spring! Here in Newfoundland, the snow is still sticking around but I can see the walkway outside my door again, so we may be getting close to actual spring weather. As much as I like the winter, I am looking forward to not scraping the car off in the morning or struggling to clear a path to the door through snow that is already turning into ice blocks. Also, with warmer weather comes the hopeful inching closer of the field season (covid restrictions permitting). Everyone wear your masks and wash your hands, so my colleagues and I can stomp around graveyards and dig holes (not in the graveyards), please!

I haven’t had much to blog about recently, as I am in the last couple weeks of my PhD coursework! Hard to believe that this part of my degree program is nearly finished! I’ve been working on outlining the topics and questions for my comprehensive exams this semester, writing little sections on my manuscript every week, sprucing up the NLAS website (please go check us out!), and working on another little project that is soooo cool, but I can’t share yet! Get excited though, it’s going to rule.

A few weeks ago, however, I got the chance to work with ‘Archaeology Now‘! Archaeology Now is a:

Houston-based affiliate of a nationwide organization—the Archaeological Institute of America. [They] were founded in 1967 by Dominique De Menil, Philip Oliver Smith, and Walter Widrig. Today, we present an ambitious series of events for the public focused on our many stories through time. [Their mission is to] promotes awareness and appreciation of world cultures through archaeology.

I was invited to film an episode for their ‘Tiny Lecture Series’ for their youtube channel, about my book project on hexfoils and other protective symbols in a mortuary context for Berghahn Books. After a few trial runs with weird lighting, we made the video below, which I am super happy to share with you all. I hope you enjoy the finished lecture that I filmed in the middle of our entryroom / library, and know that between all takes, my cats were climbing the bookshelves, sitting on the chair with the tripod on it and making it all vibrate while scratching themselves, and yelling at me in confusing! Also, there are hexfoils!


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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 Bay, Boston MA

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Holiday Diaries: Exploring the History of Body-Snatching, Burial, & Mourning in Edinburgh, Scotland.

If you follow my social media, you might have gathered a few things recently. Firstly, I just got back from a lovely holiday in Scotland where I explored the morbid and macabre as one such as myself is wont to do, and secondly, I got engaged! So that is all very exciting, but because this is a death blog, I’m going to focus on the former for now.

The majority of my trip was based in the city of Edinburgh. The city is famous for being the home of the Royal Family’s Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh Castle and the Military Tattoo, and of course…Burke and Hare.

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Edinburgh & the Firth of Forth, from Calton Hill (photo by author 2019)

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Protect the Grave: The hexfoil in an early mortuary context

If you follow me on instagram, you’ve probably seen a photo of the tattoo on my knee. Surrounded by a cluster of foliage, most of which are native plants of British Columbia, is a bold, black hexfoil. I’ve talked about this symbol on the blog before but today I wanted to a bit more of a deep dive into the symbol’s history, it’s distribution, and it’s significance in a mortuary context. If you’re interested in this topic, keep an eye out for my upcoming book “Burial and Death in Colonial North America“, where I will be discussing hexfoils in a mortuary context in much more depth.

Consider this the taster!
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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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Medieval Graffiti in a (historic) New England Context

That title should also have the word ‘mortuary’ in it somewhere, but you probably guessed that’s where I’m going with this! Today I wanted to talk about above-ground material culture relating to historic burials. More specifically, about the classic gravestones of colonial New England and symbology that appears with some regularity throughout the region that display an iteration of several compass-drawn symbol often found in medieval churches and on items of furniture in the British Isles.

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Ye Antientist Burial Ground’, 1652~, New London, Connecticut. Photo by author, 2015

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