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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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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Burial Ground Conservation Tips

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Complex monument in North Wales
(photo by author, 2012)

Hello readers, many of you are being directed here via the Heritage NL gravestone conservation tips and/or by Dale Jarvis! I originally wrote this post in 2017, and have since moved back to Newfoundland and have started my PhD in Archaeology (fall 2020). I have been working in heritage for nearly a decade, and specialise in burial ground archaeology and gravestone conservation. Last summer (2019) I had the pleasure of working full time as a gravestone conservator at Woodland Cemetery in the City of London, Ontario, and have since worked with Brick Street Cemetery in London, and on some other conservation projects as a heritage consultant in the Maritimes. I have given talks on gravestone preservation best practices to a number of organisations over the last year or two, and would have happy to answer any questions you many have about a site in your area. Please contact me through my website, or at blackcatpreservation (at) gmail.com. As an archaeologist with experience and graduate degrees in Newfoundland and Labrador, I am able to be a permit holder for archaeological projects such as burial ground projects.

The purpose of this post if to inform volunteers and communities groups who are invested in the care of their local historic burial sites of the current best practices in gravestone and burial site conservation. We all know that burial sites are a vital historic resource for learning about our communities, as well as the resting places of our families and friends, and they deserve to be cared for and conserved as best we can. As an archaeologist and burial ground specialist, I hope to help you do that, and it is my goal to make the conservation techniques for ‘Do No Harm’ care as widely available as possible.

Note: I am speaking only of the conservation and archaeology of settler burial grounds, as a settler in Canada. Work with Indigenous communities in their burial spaces is another topic entirely and should never be undertaken without the express wishes and blessing of an Indigenous community.

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