Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens


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An Introduction of Archaeological Illustration: Small Finds Workshop

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Portion of metal axe head (Lacy 2017)

This Friday, June 19th (Juneteenth), I taught an online workshop for the Newfoundland and Labrador Archaeology Society (NLAS). In case you missed the workshop or wanted a refresher after we wrapped up, I’ve turned the step-by-step drawing tips in a blog post. I presented the workshop from the occupied traditional territories of the Anishinaabek, Haudenosaunee, Lūnaapéewak, and Attawandaron peoples, under Treaty 6.

This post is a departure from my typical death and burial posts, The following post uses illustrations I drew specifically for the workshop, and I hope you find it helpful! In the field, I use my drawing skills in a number of ways, and it is always a skill worth investing time into. Please let me know if you have any questions.

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Pinning Historic Gravestones: A case for wood pins

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Example of an old rusted iron pin, Woodland Cemetery.

Yesterday I went for a social-distancing walk at Woodland Cemetery, visited a few repairs that we did last summer (all are holding up well!), and made note of a few gravestones that have suffered some new damage. One of these stones was one that was repaired a few years earlier by another team, using one of the pinning methods that is accepted as a safe conservation technique for historic gravestones.

Historically, gravestones that had pins in them were attached together using iron, lead, or copper. The issues with the iron pins is, of course, that they can easily rust the moment moisture gets into the space, which in turn will cause the stone to crack from the inside. This damage is difficult to repair, which is why we don’t use these anymore! In place of iron, stainless steel pins have been used in more recent decades to hold broken stones together, and more recently these are being replaced with fibreglass rods. However, these materials, while they don’t rust, they have their own issues.

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Curious Canadian Cemeteries: Kilworth (Baker) Cemetery, Delaware Township, Middlesex County, ON

Today’s Curious Canadian Cemeteries is brought to you by being trapped inside during Week 3-to-4 of work-from-home-quarantine. What an interesting time we are living in…? Let me help distract you for a moment with this post about a small burial ground near London, ON, the Kilworth (Baker) Cemetery, Delaware Township, Middlesex County, Ontario.

I came across this site while heading out to a sugar bush (several weeks ago, when we were still able to go outside and do things! #socialdistancing). Despite living in Ontario since 2017, I hadn’t managed to go to a sugar bush before, so that in itself was exciting! Of course, I was more than happy to add a little burial ground visit into the trip when we spotted this one along the side of the road.

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View looking east from the entryway (photo by author 2020)

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Interaction with Morbid Spaces: How we move & use burial grounds

This post is a digital summary version of a paper I’d written for a course during my undergrad, and later expanded on to present at the Transmortality conference in Luxembourg in 2017. I’m choosing to turn these ideas into a blog post, because I think it’s a rather interesting topic and I’d love to have a discussion with all of you about it! So let’s dive it, shall we?

By investigation the relationship between burial spaces and their communities, we can gain insight into the personal relationship between people and death. This post will explore interaction with burial spaces and the influence of these spaces on movement throughout history, from the 17th to the 21st centuries. I looked at Boston, MA and Guilford, CT as my case studies, through historic and modern accounts of being in the burial grounds, examining the multi-purpose use of many of these early Puritan sites.

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The Guilford Green, Guilford, CT (Photo by author 2016).

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Significant Women of Brick Street Cemetery: Phoebe McNames, Silvany Tunks, & Hannah Caldwell

It’s a common theme throughout history, that women’s stories are swept under the rug, intentionally or not, to make way for the stories of history’s great men. Of course, with cis women, trans, queer, and otherwise non-gender-conforming individuals being present throughout history, the tales of ‘men’ are only a small fraction of the whole story.

Gravestones from the 19th century have a common formula when it comes to remembering women, and that is by labelling them as wife of… and often not providing any additional information about them. Often nothing much is recorded throughout history about them either, making it even more difficult to find anything else out other than who they married. Today I’d like to talk about three young women who are buried at Brick Street Cemetery, and were early settlers in the area in the mid-19th century: Phoebe McNames, Silvany Tunks, & Hannah Caldwell.

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Burial Against All Odds

Today I’d like to write a short post to tell you all about a few amazing instances of the pursuit of a ‘proper’ burial against all odds. Before starting, I would like to state that this is a proper burial through the lens of primarily white settler communities in the 19th and 20th centuries in what is now Canada. Thanks!

What denotes a good burial? It can be defined by a person’s social status, their religion, their personal beliefs and choices, fads of the time, and a number of other things. A proper, good burial in the medieval period included being close to the altar, in ancient Egypt it meant having belongings with you to help in the afterlife, for southern USA enslaved families it meant being able to bury their dead in peace on their own terms. For settler communities in Newfoundland and mainland Canada, it meant being able to follow their traditional burial practices of  interment, regardless of the conditions.

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A buck at Woodland Cemetery (photo by author 2019)

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Brick Street Cemetery Stories: Quaker Stones & Attempted Murder

Hi all, can you believe it’s already nearly the middle of August? I can’t! It feels like just yesterday that I was starting my work at Woodland Cemetery. Tragically, that contract has ended, and I am working for another local historic cemetery for the next month or so, combing through their archival materials to create a book manuscript about the background of the site, their significant people and stories, and transcriptions of the gravestones themselves. Keep your eyes peeled, folks. It promises to be an interesting project!

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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 2

Hello all, welcome back to another ‘updates from the field’ style post, where I’d like to discuss what we got up to at the cemetery this week! It was an extremely busy week, and we got quite a lot accomplished, and learned a load of new skills throughout it all that I am very excited to use throughout this program and hopefully throughout my career as a historical archaeologist.

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Little woodchuck friend coming to see why we were digging so many holes in their field! 

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Catalogue of Octagonal Dead Houses of Ontario: 5th – 7th Structures Identified

If you’ve been around this website for more than a minute or two, you’ll have noticed that I’m really interested in what settlers did with their dead during the winter. I’ve written about dead houses several times on this blog, talked about them at Death Salon Boston 2018, am currently working on a paper on winter corpse disposal in colonial North America, and shout about them to anyone who listens!

A really interesting form of dead house is the octagonal structures that can be found in Ontario. As far as I know so far, these seven surviving examples (if anyone has one not listed in this post, please let me know!) are the only octagonal dead houses in the province, if not North America. The style was extremely localized to Toronto, and north of the City around Yonge Street.

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Richmond Hill Dead House (photo by author 2018)

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