Reoccurring motifs and decorative elements

Calvary Cemetery is a Roman Catholic cemetery that has provided funerary services for families since 1889. Cemeteries are places where historical archaeology can be seen and used in action, so our class visited Calvary cemetery and collected attributes of over 100 different grave markers. We recorded information about the birth/death dates, grave adornments, the size and shape of the markers, the decorative elements, the associations between single and family plots, and much more.

The frequency of artifact types change through time as a result of new technologies, styles, and available construction materials. Seriation is a relative dating technique used in archaeology to visualize the distribution of a these changes in chronological sequence.

*Click on the images to enlarge

You can see from the graphs above the frequency in reoccurring motifs or decorative elements on the graves in our sample changed through time. The width of the bar indicates a higher proportion. The occurrence seriation chart does not give a visual representation of frequency, but shows a presence/absence visualization. The most dominant symbols are the cross and flower. These decorative elements occur most frequently across all time periods. The celtic cross does not start to appear until the 1980s. It would be interesting to see if there was a large Irish Catholic population and find out how the use of the celtic cross relates to the changing leadership or rules and regulations at Calvary Cemetery.

Technology also plays a key role in what kind of decoration is used on gravestones. With the advent of the CNC machine and more sophisticated CAD software, increasingly elaborate individualistic designs are available and secular scenery such as fishing, trees, and sunburst decorations begin to occur in the 2000s. Hand-carved designs were most likely very expensive and a family in the 1920s, for example, most likely would not enough money for commissioning a hand carved and elaborate design on their loved-ones gravestone.

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