Cemetery Project

The purpose of this project is to experience some of the processes involved in doing archaeology field research, classification, chronological ordering, sampling, and pattern recognition along with interpretation. When you first enter a cemetery (if you have selected wisely) you will be confronted with enormous and confusing diversity. With some reflection, however, you should begin to recognize common elements and patterns through time. As an archaeologist you should view this in terms of style, chronology, and information. Keep in mind that all this means nothing to the dead. The dead are dead. Cemeteries instead are an artifact of us that can be analyzed and understood.

To begin, select a nearby cemetery to study. Make sure that you select a cemetery and not a small church or other graveyard. In a graveyard you may see very old grave markets, but you will see little diversity. Extreme age of a cemetery is often not a great benefit in completing this project. Find a good cemetery that has markers from much of the twentieth century, perhaps even back into nineteenth century. I would also strongly recommend that you avoid completely modern cemeteries with little or no diversity in grave markers. They often dictate markers that can be mowed over. For the same reason avoid military cemeteries. Uniformity there is the order of the day. Use some common sense, and anticipate research questions.

General Instructions and Questions

This is what you should do  just spend some time getting to know the cemetery. Think of the questions below as you walk around. You will need to take notes in a systematic fashion. This will avoid the need to return. I would design a form that will allow you to collect the same information on each grave marker in a systematic fashion  style, approximate size, and shape, type of stone (most are sandstone [grainy, not smooth] limestone [white or light gray, but dull and often weathered], slate [dark, but not shiny], or granite [gray – pink – red – black, large grained and polished), name of deceased, date of death and any other age related information, epitaph (sayings or quotations), symbols, and the like. A simple drawing or photograph (if allowed) would also help greatly. With your data please answer the following questions (in bold):

1) What is the name of your cemetery, and where is it located? What is the general age range of your cemetery, and is it still receiving burials? Generally describe the grounds. In other words, set the context for me. Some cemeteries have brochures that can be used;

2) Select and record at least 15 grave markers that represent various time eras. Be mindful of the questions below;

3) Do certain styles of grave markers have temporal (age of placement) correlations? In other words, does the style of grave marker in your cemetery change through time? If not, why might that be?;

4) Locate at least five markers from different time periods that have epitaphs (can be part of original sample). What do these epitaphs say and how might those sayings reflect societys changing attitudes toward death?;

5) Select five grave markers with mens names versus womens names. Are there differences in the ways in which men and women are memorialized? What might any changes in that regard say about roles of men versus women?;

6) Locate at least two family plots. Are formal multi-generational family plots more common during earlier times versus today? What might these changes say about the changing nature of families today versus in the past?

Finally, summarize your analysis and conclusions in a short report (five to six pages). Include an appendix (beyond page recommendation) with your forms or raw data.


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