Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens


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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 Back, Boston MA

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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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The Old Durham Cemetery: Exploring the early 18th-century

For Easter holiday this year, we had the fortune of traveling to Connecticut to visit my partner’s family, eat a lot of chocolate, and (of course) explore some historic burial grounds. Since this was a short trip we only made it to two, and today I’d like to take you on a little tour of the Old Durham Cemetery in Durham, CT, which opened in 1700!

The modern name of the site includes the word ‘cemetery’ but as you may already know, that term wasn’t utilized in North America until the 1830s, so I’ll continue this post referring to it as a ‘burial ground’ unless using the site’s name. xxx20190421_103722 Continue reading


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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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Imported gravestones from Massachusetts in Atlantic Canada & examples from Cambridge (One common skull, continued)

Previously on this blog I have discussed what I like to call the “one common skull”. It is a death’s head design, a name given to a motif with a central winged skull, sometimes with crossed bones nearby, or an hourglass, or any other mortality symbol really, and was popular through the 17th and 18th centuries on gravestones throughout eastern North America. The use of mortality symbols in the colonial period draws inspiration from the medieval use of these same symbols to remind viewers of their mortality and was popular across many different groups, not because Puritans were particularly morbid.

If you missed the previous posts and want to catch up, you can read about Outsourcing Monuments in Newfoundland or a small case study at the Old Burying Point in Salem, MA by clicking those links. Then come back and join us here!

This style of gravestone is particularly interesting to me because it is everywhere on the Atlantic coast, throughout the colonial period! While mortuary archaeologists and art historians can say that this style, characterized by the central winged skull with a V-shaped nose in the lunette, small finials with a circular design inside, and the same leafy and circular pattern down the borders around the central text, originated in Massachusetts, it seems like we still don’t know who the carver (or school of carvers) was who is responsible. I don’t have an answer for that yet, but I do want to take a closer look at the chronology of the style in MA compared to imported varieties in Atlantic Canada.
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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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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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‘Guilford’s Town Greene’ – a vanished 17th-century burial landscape in Connecticut

The alternate title to this post is: ‘Guilford’s Town Greene’ – The burial ground that if you give me a moment, I will never stop talking about’. If you’ve heard me speak at a conference or lecture, or…ever… you’ve probably heard me use it an an example of a curious burial landscape, one that has seen endless change, interaction, and ultimately erasure. It’s a very interesting case study in the changing views of death in Western society as well, so if you’re here for the modern death aspect, read on!
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Outsourcing Monuments? – Gravestone carving VS. importation in Newfoundland

20160911_144257In a place often referred to as ‘The Rock’, it sounds a bit redundant to be importing gravestones, but for a period in the 18th-early 19th century, that is exactly what people in Newfoundland were doing. By people, I of course mean people who could afford to have gravestone carved overseas and shipped across the ocean. There are locally carved gravestones as well going back to the 17th-century! I even have a puzzle for all of you gravestone enthusiasts out there, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
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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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