Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens


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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)

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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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Tales from the Trenches: Ferryland Week 4, 2017. The Final Push

Well here we are, the final week of my Masters excavation! The title of this post may say week 4, but including last year’s dig this would be week 10. Week 10! For a Masters, I believe that is a bit more time spent digging than was necessary for the degree, but in terms of pursuing the questions I was asking… maybe it wasn’t enough time?
We’ll have to wait and see! We got up to quite a bit at Ferryland this week, and I spent part of the week gathering my thoughts about the research, the end of a major part of my project, and what conclusions we can draw from the results.

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I’m standing up in this photo! The trench got a little deep towards the end of the week. Photo by Ian Petty, 2017.

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Tales from the Trenches: Ferryland Week 3, 2017

Here we are, 3/4 weeks complete for the 2017 field season!
Cumulatively, this makes my 9th week excavating at Ferryland in search of the 17th-century burials. Lets go over what we uncovered this passed week, and then I’d like to talk about visitors to public archaeology sites and what we know so far about the burial ground!

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Tales from the Trenches: Fieldwork Week 2, 2017 (or, why does this keep happening?)

Halfway through through the fieldwork season, and I already cannot believe the amount of earth we’ve moved in pursuit of the burial ground! It’s amazing, thank you to the week 1 & 2 crews for all the hard work you put in, I couldn’t have gotten this far without all of you (and your digging hands)!

It was an amazing week over all, so lets dive right in to what we got up to at Ferryland last week:

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17th-century building rubble from the brewhouse dismantling. We found lots of early-mid-17th-century objects between the fallen stones, as well as rich organic soil, charcoal, burned bones, and other organic material. Photo by author, 2017.

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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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