A Cemetery as an Archaeological Site?

I believe archaeology is misunderstood because people assume archaeologists only work at ancient sites where the artifacts, ecofacts and features are thousands of years old and are dug up on a different continent instead of under our feet or in our backyards. Even if they do understand that archaeology can be done anywhere, they lack the understanding that archaeology goes beyond collecting, identifying and analyzing artifacts, ecofacts and features. Archaeology looks at the big picture. Archaeologists use analogy and theory to answer the big questions such as “What does it mean to be human?” and “How do humans deal with change?”

A stone wall and a fence serve the same purpose

As we were searching for the cemetery at Boyd Corners North, we stumbled across a stone wall in the middle of the woods. Using what Ashmore refers to as analogy, we could infer that the stone wall was used to mark a property and possibly enclose a house or a church by comparing the shape and structure to what we use today (fences).

Where we found artifacts/features

When we found stone walls and eventually the cemetery along our hike, we plotted the latitude and longitude coordinates of each feature or artifact in the GPS. Ashmore stresses the importance of this on pg. 187 because “spatial distributions and associations of archaeological data are often directly observable” when plotted on a map. If we were to go back and look at the plots, patterns could arise and we might be able to conclude how big the community was and how it was laid out. Then if we wanted to look deeper, we could infer why they placed features in specific areas and what the purpose of each feature was.

Example of a woman's tombstone

A cemetery might not sound interesting to most of the general public, but I was amazed to realize how much a cemetery that was only a century old could tell us about who lived on the ground we were exploring. In the short fifteen minutes we were there, we concluded that it was not solely a family cemetery, but a community cemetery. The presence of a stone wall around the land suggests that those that lived there planned to stay for a long period of time. Also, there is evidence based on the wording and trends of the tombstones that women didn’t have much power in their society because husband’s names were listed on the wife’s tombstones but not the other way around.

A cemetery, before my practical on Friday and this week’s classes meant a place where several dead people were buried, a place where their family, friends, and ancestors could come pay their respects. Never had I considered the amount of archeological knowledge that could come from just walking around one.

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