Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens


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PhD Fieldwork 2: Graveyard Tours & NLAS talks

Back for another research blog instalment! The past few weeks have been pretty busy, with Black Cat projects, some comps reading, a camping trip and hiking in Gros Morne, getting my 2nd covid vaccine, and my parents coming out to visit. We still managed to sneak in a little community archaeology engagement though, which turned out to be sort of a conjuncture between the NLAS (Newfoundland and Labrador Archaeology Society) ((I’m the VP this year)) and my own research in New Perlican.

The town of New Perlican was holding their annual Heritage Day this past Saturday, and the NLAS went down with our museum in a box / ‘edukit’ to talk to anyone interested about archaeology in the province. I was also asked to give a short tour and talk about the Bloody Point burial site, which is part of my PhD research! Check HERE and HERE if you need to get caught up on the site! It was an amazing day, and I’m excited to share it with you all!

Looking towards New Perlican from the road to Bloody Point (photo by author 2021)
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PhD in a Pandemic: The First Few Months

It’s a strange time to be reading about death, I’ll just start with that thought.

When I planned my PhD project, in the spring/summer of 2019, covid-19 wasn’t on our radar and I was happily planning our move back to Newfoundland for the later summer of 2020. After the January 2020 SHA conference in Boston, where there were undoubtedly some people with covid in the city at that point, things began to go downhill. Among other things (replanning our wedding, for one), we had to examine when or if moving was going to happen. How do you start a PhD online, in a different province? How do you focus? And how, I wondered, do I read about death in the news and in my research everyday? How do you talk about your research while people are suffering loss around you?

It’s harder to focus, that’s for sure. It’s harder to keep up with those emails from students and profs, class demands, blog contacts (please don’t stop them, just bare with me re response times!), the dishes and vacuuming, settling that anxiety creeping in, reading for fun, etc. Everything feels like a lot, for everyone, and slowing ourselves down is definitely not a bad thing during this time. I’ve seen loads online about people bragging about being so productive in lockdown, but please don’t listen to them. My book was published in 2020, and that’s not a productivity brag, just the publishing timeline (I didn’t work on it much beyond approving proofs in 2020). Working on research soothes me a little, keeps my restless hands doing something via typing since knitting too long aggravates my fieldwork-injured trigger finger/claw fingers now (archaeology, right?).

I write about death, and people are dying of more than just a scary new virus everyday. In 1628, Sir. George Calvert wrote a letter about half of the settlers at Ferryland being struck down by an unnamed illness. The colony must have been terrified, and those who were not sick had to shoulder extra work while also taking care of the sick. I talk about death and burial, as a universally experienced part of life, but our generation has never experienced anything like this. We are building the tools to survive through a pandemic, and hearing about what happened in historic situations helps a little, I think. A world-changing pandemic is certainly not how I thought I’d start my PhD program, and it’s come with learning a lot of new ways to relax and step away from stressors, academic and world alike.

I’m excited to get into 2021 and hopefully it will become more uneventful as we go. I’m looking forward to fieldwork, prepping for comps, working more on my second book, and hopefully seeing friends and family again soon! Do what you need to get through. As Dr. Fitzpatrick said in the covid briefing last night, Hold Fast, Newfoundland & Labrador.