A Stroll in a Cemetery

Cemeteries are not just these spooky, misty places where monsters and ghosts hang out.  They are also a pumpkin full of information that archaeologists can explore.  One of the first things that people tend to think of when discussing archaeology and graves is grave robbing. In the past (Indiana Jones) archaeologists would have been considered grave robbers.  Many were sent to collect rare and priceless artifacts by museums, many of which were either located in graves (grave goods) or in other sacred sites.  Graves tend to have the precious metals (Agamemnon’s gold death mask) and intact artifacts that were deliberately placed with the deceased.  Nowadays, archaeologists try their best to leave graves undisturbed if they can.  Sometimes this is not an option, especially when graveyards are in the path of infrastructure projects.  During those cases, archaeologists work with the community and descendants of the deceased to relocate the graves with all the respect that they deserve.

Another aspect of graveyard archaeology people tend to think of is that archaeologists uncover unmarked graves from war, Native American and other past and ancient civilizations, very old unrecorded Christian cemeteries, and pyramids.

Deetz’s examination of Puritan Gravestone engravings and their frequency over time

While true in many cases the marked more modern-day cemeteries in church yards can offer a lot of information to archaeologists.  Much of this information is gathered by means other than excavation.  Excavating and analyzing human remains is a very controversial subject that brings into spiritual and moral issues.  While human remains can provide plenty of information, there is also plenty lying on the surface in the tombstones, cemetery layout, and church records.

A famous study conducted by James Deetz in 1977 examined the different engravings on headstones in New England Puritan cemetery and discovered a gradual change in cultural identity and ideology.  The markings shifted from the Death’s-head to cherub and finally a willow and urn design.  Each one represents a softening of the rather harsh death’s-head engraving.  Deetz also discovered that the inscriptions changed from a rather individualistic phrase to the now common “In Memory of…”.  Other archaeologists examined similarly aged cemeteries in New York to see if the trend was more local or denominational rather than regional.  They discovered that this trend of softening and commonality was true for other cemeteries.  Deetz and the other archaeologists were able to track iconography and cultural changes without putting a single shovel into the ground.

GPR Survey of a cemetery. The horizontal (usually white colored) lines are potential graves

Just because something is buried in a graveyard does not mean it is outside the reach of archaeologists.  Geophysical techniques such as ground-penetrating radar (GPR) make it possible to see changes under the ground without disturbing it or the spirits who rest there.  GPR sends radar waves into the ground and measures the time it takes for the wave to bounce off an object and return to the sensor.  Different objects, such as a coffin, and soil compositions, like a grave shaft, will bounce signals back at different times creating an anomaly in the GPR recording.  While GPR and other geophysical methods cannot specifically tell an archaeologist what an anomaly is, they can provide information of what possibly lies below the ground.  Graves then to be 2-meter-long rectangles that line up side by side with one another.  If such an anomaly pops up during a graveyard survey, it is likely a grave, especially when it is associated with a visible tombstone.  These types of surveys are great to locating possibly unmarked graves, determining the extent of an unmarked cemetery, and seeing if the current locations of tombstones line up with likely graves.

Using these non-invasive methods of cemetery analysis lessens controversial nature of the investigation.  Descendants and caretakers might be more willing to allow research that will not disturb the souls at rest.  These investigations also prevent the researchers from being haunted by the spirits that roam the grounds.

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Growing Up In Cemeteries, Pt 2.

By: Zane Ermine

Hello everyone! This is Zane Ermine again with another blog post! This week I’m going to be talking about headstone symbolism throughout the last 300 or so years in North America. (I should note that this is an extremely brief generalization based off of my previous knowledge and some basic research).

Headstones and cemetery engravings have changed drastically throughout the years. From the onset of using stone markers to designate burials, there were often intricate designs incorporated with the name, birth and death dates of the individual onto the face of the stone. These were usually carved with a hammer and chisel and due to the time and effort that were necessary to process an individual monument, set designs were chosen and offered to the families. These designs had themes that were common throughout the industry.

Here are just a handful of the more common symbols:

Dogwood – often a symbol of Christianity, it can also represent eternal life and resurrection.

Dove Often representative of the Holy Spirit, also symbolizes peace in death or the ascension to Heaven.

Dove

Draped Urn – the urn is an ancient symbol of death – often draped with a cloth to represent a separation between life and death

Draped Urn

Wheat – the Grim Reaper is generally depicted as carrying a scythe – can represent a life well lived, harvested at its time.

Lamb – common on children’s stones, it can represent innocence – a lamb in Jesus’ flock

Lamb

 

Example of Greek temple style monument

Eventually, tombstones grew into a status symbol – you can often tell which family had the most money by their large and intricately carved family stone. These headstones were often influenced by the popular architecture of the time; you can find Egyptian or Greek style stones during their respective revivals between the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Around the 1930s, some companies began slowly adopting sandblast technology to engrave their headstones. Rubber was (and still is) used as a stencil to prevent the sand from eroding sections of the stone that are meant to remain untouched. The technology has remained relatively stable since this period, despite varying methods for attaching the rubber and the introduction of computer software. Currently, adhesive-backed rolls of rubber are cut from a stencil cutting machine and placed on the blank monument die. The machine cuts the stencil directly from a CAD program and a to scale computer draft of the stone.

A modern headstone, showing detailed sandblast work. The 3 symbols across the bottom represent the deceased’s various hobbies.

These days, symbolism seems to have taken a back seat to artistic creativity. Modern technology has drastically increased the range of designs that can be placed onto a monument – instead of hand-carving designs, computers and automated sandblast machines do much of the work. Some of the older staples, such as dogwood, doves, roses, or clasping hands have stuck around, although this is more likely due to tradition or aesthetic values, rather than symbolism. Customers can now choose from wider range of designs including sports emblems, cartoon characters, or a variety of animals or vehicles. The art of tombstone design has shifted from inert symbolism to a more blatant pictorial representation of an individual’s life.

Material Referenced:

https://www.in.gov/dnr/historic/3747.htm

http://washtenawhistory.org/images/tombstone_symbols_v8.pdf

http://www.graveaddiction.com/symbol.html

http://www.thecemeteryclub.com/symbols.html

http://www.creepybasement.com/cemetery-symbols/

Images Referenced:

http://washtenawhistory.org/images/tombstone_symbols_v8.pdf

http://www.davismonumentspa.com/specialty-monuments

 

IUP DEPARTMENT OF ANTHROPOLOGY

Growing Up In Cemeteries Pt. 1

By: Zane Ermine

Hello everyone! My name is Zane Ermine and I’m a second year graduate student of the Applied Archaeology program. Gen had originally asked me to write a post about what I had done this summer. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get away from work for a long enough period, so I didn’t really have time for anything archaeology related. So, I’ve decided to share a hobby of mine – something related to historic preservation in which my dad and I have been volunteering our time for the last 5 or so years.

My dad and I take pictures of tombstones. It sounds weird when you put it bluntly like that, but there’s a legitimate reason for it – genealogy. The pictures are taken for a group called BillionGraves; their purpose is to allow individuals to easily find their loved one’s headstones and graves through the internet. It has the secondary (but in my opinion, significantly more important) function of recording cemetery data for the longevity and digitalization of cemetery records.

BillionGraves has a model similar to Find-A-Grave, the popular cemetery search engine that’s been around for years. Where they differ is that BillionGraves is trying to document entire cemeteries with GPS coordinates, as well as a photo for each individual burial. After the photos are uploaded, other volunteers transcribe the information carved onto the stone so that it becomes searchable.

It can be hard to understand the importance of this kind of documentation until you are in a cemetery where most of the headstones are unreadable from the wear of time. Headstones have been particularly affected in SW PA due to industrialization and acid rain. Losing a headstone is akin to losing an entire person – but somehow it happens all the time. Cemeteries overgrow, stones weather, and people forget. It’s a sad truth, but with photographs and written records, some of the loss can be mitigated.

Since I’ve started photographing for the site, I’ve taken 59,954 pictures in 401 cemeteries across 9 states. I don’t know how many entire cemeteries we’ve taken, but it’s definitely over 100 at this point.

My family has been in the monument industry for over 100 years – I grew up in cemeteries, and through the family business, I spend a lot of time in cemeteries. It’s amazing to see all the different levels of craftsmanship, the different stone materials, and how the styles have evolved over the years – and through a process like this, I can experience every stone in a cemetery individually. It’s something I thoroughly enjoy while also taking comfort in knowing that the information can be genuinely useful in the long run.

I’m going to leave you with some of the most famous headstones I’ve personally taken for the site. If anyone has any questions, I can be reached at ddkw@iup.edu.

Andy Warhol – St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Cemetery, Bethel Park, PA

Herbert Morrison – Scottdale Cemetery, Scottdale, PA The radio announcer for the Hindenburg Disaster (Oh, the humanity!)

 

Mister Fred Rogers –- Unity Cemetery, Latrobe, PA buried in his mother’s family’s mausoleum

Edward “Blackbeard” Teach – Ocracoke Island, NC Has no headstone, decapitated and buried at sea, marker is the closest thing to a headstone

Francis Scott Key – Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Frederick, MD Wrote the Star-Spangled Banner

 

Zane’s father (far left), Zane (next to his father), and two of their workers rotated this statue, because it was facing away from the cemetery.

 

IUP DEPARTMENT OF ANTHROPOLOGY