Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens


Winter Corpses: What to do with Dead Bodies in colonial Canada


Dead house in Nain, Labrador (Jarvis 1995. From the Memorial University of Newfoundland-Intangible Cultural Heritage Inventory

Welcome back, dear readers, to another installment of a blog about burial practices and archaeology! Today I’d like to talk about something that is close to by heart (as the result of arguing about it during my thesis): What did people do with their dead bodies during the winter, in colonial Canada?! Well, there are a few options to discuss but the short answer is…

Keep them.
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Sailor, War Prisoner, Settler: John Harris

This post is a bit of a departure from my normal themes, but there will be a gravestone or two, never fear! I spent a lot of last weekend working on a submission for the publication ACORN put out by the ‘Architecture Conservancy Ontario’, with my brother, who is nearly finished his undergraduate degree in architecture at the University of Waterloo (shout-out to my cool brother!). We wrote about the importance of conservation and reuse at the Harris & Co. Woolen Mill in the Rockwood Conservation Area in Rockwood, Ontario (Township of Guelph/Eramosa), and its been a lot of fun to work on a project together!

While doing research for the paper, we were reading a document that our aunt has had for a while: Transcriptions of John Harris’ Diary from 1811 – 1820. Reading historic documents is an excellent way to gain insight into not only a person’s life and day-to-day activities, but also to get a better understanding of who that person was in their life. John’s diary was mostly records of what he did, with some personal thought and strife added in there, but it is where a lot of these events occurred that I remain amazed that he managed to record any of it at all. Lets delve in, shall we?
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Inscriptions, Outcrops, and XRF

I have a quick announcment for anyone interested in my work with the Ferryland gravestones! A while ago I wrote a paper on the analysis of the gravestones with Drs. Barry Gaulton and Stephen Piercey, of Memorial University of Newfoundland.

The paper is being published in the North Atlantic Archaeology Journal, Volume 5, and I just got the pdf proof of the formatting. This is really exciting, as my first published academic paper, and also my first published piece of the script development work I did the fieldwork for waaaay back in 2012! (That paper is in the works, never fear)

If you are interested, here is the abstract, and I’ll update this post when I know the publication date of the journal.


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Burial Ground Conservation – Do’s & Don’ts

Nov19_2Hello readers! It’s been a few weeks since I’ve written anything on here, but don’t let that make you think I’ve not been working away in heritage, no sir! In fact, since I last posted on, I graduated with my MA (focus on Historical Archaeology), moved to Ontario, and started a new job as a Cultural Heritage Specialist. Need a heritage building assessed, or a burial ground examined (or conservation plans for either)? Give me a shout!

Now that I’ve mentioned burial grounds (because what kind of death & archaeology blog would this be if that wasn’t what I was talking about), I wanted to discuss something that comes up a lot when discussing burial sites, historic or modern, with members of the public: Conservation in the burial ground. By that I mean practices that will help preserve the integrity and survival of the site, but also for the gravestones themselves as an important aspect of the space and a document about those buried in it.
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New Perlican: Blank Gravestones & Mapping


Myself, mapping away on our plan of St. Mark’s! Photo by Ian Petty

Yesterday I headed back to New Perlican with Ian Petty (2nd year MA student in Archaeology at MUN) to meet up with Dr. Shannon Lewis-Simpson from Memorial University of Newfoundland in order to continue with the surveying of the St. Mark’s historic burial ground. The weather was not ideal and I was hard-pressed to remember if we’d used a plastic drafting film or normal paper to draw the map on in the first place, so with rain in the forecast our fingers were crossed!

I wanted to go get as much of the burial ground mapped as possible before the rain set in…and before I had to start my new job! There will be more details on that major life change later though, this post is still about the burial ground in New Perlican.
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Community Mortuary Archaeology & Folklore – New Perlican, Newfoundland

This Saturday I was invited to speak at and participate in a community heritage & folklore event in the town of New Perlican, Newfoundland. New Perlican is located on the eastern coast of the Avalon Peninsula, and has dated back to the 17th-century through records such as the 1675 Berry Census and archaeological evidence of a ‘plantation’ in the area. It is suspected that several of John Guy’s settlers from the 1610 Cupid’s Plantation may have settled in New Perlican in the early 17th century, but there has yet to be any physical evidence of that move identified.

The event I was involved with was a collaboration between the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, Memorial University of Newfoundland, and Heritage New Perlican, and involved something really that I’m pretty passionate about…burial grounds! Students and community volunteers would join us for the day to learn about the history burial places in this historic town, hear about the town’s history from members of the Heritage group, meet the cemetery cleaning ‘Goats of New Perlican’, and help the community clean up one of their most historic burial spaces. I was there as an additional help supervising the students, to answer questions on burials and gravestones (and have some awesome conversations about headstone preservation with local folks!), and to give a talk about my research as a historic mortuary archaeologist. Also, to map a bunch of gravestones!
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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)


Hartford, CT burial ground, facing the later-added church. Photo by author, 2015

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