Spade & the Grave

death and burial through an archaeological lens


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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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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┬ácompass-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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