Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens


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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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Inscribed Letters & Protective Marks – The Case of the W

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Pitkin headstone, 1694 (vandalized), Hartford, CT. Note the VV style W. Photo by author, 2016.

Inscribed text is something that I’ve been passionate about studying ever since my first field school as a little baby undergraduate student. Recording gravestones in a rainy July in Ireland, I pieced together fragments of words that no one had read out loud for decades and recorded them onto my forms, creating a record once more for a nearly-erased gravestone. In doing so, I became fascinated by the way that letter forms evolved and were adapted through history, from inscribed letters in stone, to calligraphy, to typeface for printing presses which has become our digital text today!

Several years ago I conducted a project funded by the P.U.R.E Grants through the University of Calgary to explore the way in which letters erode from the face of gravestones, during which I spent a lot of time sitting in the rain with my waterproof notebooks, drawing letters using a hash-line system I developed to represent different stages of erosion. It’s a whole thing. The paper which resulted from this project is currently in peer-review, and I wanted discuss in part, one of the aspects of the project in conjunction with my recent interest in ritual protection marks. In this case, the letter W, and their use in inscriptions and as protective markings.

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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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Temporary Graves – Burial in Luxembourg & the Transmortality Conference 2017

I recently had the honour of presenting some of my research at the Transmortality Conference in Luxembourg City, Luxembourg. The conference dealt with the themes of materiality and spatiality of death and dying historically and in modernity, and as my research mainly deals with spatial aspects of burial landscapes, I was beyond excited to attend and present at the conference, and chat with like-minded researchers from all over the world!
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The Transmortality project is being conducted by Université du Luxembourg, and if you’re interested in their work, there will be a special issue of the journal Mortality coming out on the theme in 2019. More information on the project can be found here: https://transmortality.uni.lu/
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Death & Commemoration at Ferryland – What we know so far.

I did say that my next post was going to be about the Ferryland gravestones, so here we are! Before I can get into the stone analysis bit though, we first need to discuss death at Ferryland.

Ferryland had long been known as a good harbour before the establishment of the 1621 settlement. In fact, there have been Beothuk hearths found at Ferryland, but their relationship (if any) with migratory European fishermen prior to the settlement being founded is unknown. The natural spit that juts out into the water creates a protected harbour, breaking waves and keeping boats sheltered from the harsh Atlantic storms. It was a natural place for people to want to live, and to die.
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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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