Making the Most of the Macabre- Interpreting Grave Markers

As late October rolls around, bringing with it the Sleepy Hollow palette and a light chill to the air, it seems only fitting to do an exploration into one of the more spooky aspects of historical archaeology. Each member of the historical archaeology was assigned a plot of the nearby Calvary Cemetery and took data on ~15-20 grave markers. As much data as could be derived was gathered including size, shape, material, epitaph, dates, form as well as many others. For this blog, I decided to look at frequency of burial for each 5-year period from the earliest grave marked to the most recent to see if I could find any trends. With n=224, we should expect the data to be representative of the cemetery as a whole, but given that there was no method to stone selection outside the initial assigned area, there could be some misrepresentation. That being said, there are a few periods that stand out. The first large spike in deaths comes in the period between 1915 and 1919- a time that coincides with one of the most deadly flu epidemics the world has ever seen: the Spanish Influenza. The most impressive spike comes during the late 30s, and as a recent transplant to the Western United States, I am not familiar with any epidemic or natural disaster from that time outside the Great Depression, though I don’t know how the depression affected death rate either. The general increase in burials over time makes sense just as a function of increased population, for even though life expectancy continues to rise, no one has beaten mortality yet. All in all, this was a very applicable look at how historical archaeologists interpret data, and it felt good to remember individuals who passed away years ago, and pay them respects once more.

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