Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens


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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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Welcome to Spade & the Grave

Good morning.

As I sit here trying to decide what to decide what exactly one is supposed to write to open a website up, to really invite people in, I can’t help but glance at my ‘academic’ bookshelf. There probably shouldn’t be quotations around that, that categorizes most of my books! There are books on medieval churches, old museums, lithic technologies, geoarchaeology, gravestone scripts, and the list goes on and on. The running theme between them all? Everyone that they talk about, all of the past peoples who used to populate the cities and countrysides of the world, have long since died.

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But that’s what archaeology is, isn’t it? We study the past, and that means dealing with mortality on a near-daily basis. As someone who originally intended to go into maritime archaeology and ‘got distracted’ in a graveyard during my field field school, I think about death and dying pretty regularly. My own research is fairly landscape based (we’ll talk about that later), but in order to get to a spatial analysis I have to understand why certain spaces may have been used as they were, which means trying to death and burial practices, anxieties, and ideals for lots of different groups of people.

This blog was created after several colleagues and many visitors to the dig asked if I had a website. Spade & the Grave will contain aspects of my ongoing research, fieldwork updates during the summer, and interesting explorations into death and burial as I come across them. I hope you all enjoy, and get in touch if you want to know more!

Welcome to Spade & the Grave.

(photos are my own)