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Death's Heads, Cherubs, and Willow Trees: Experimental Archaeology in Colonial Cemeteries 1

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2017

Edwin Dethlefsen
Affiliation:
Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
James Deetz
Affiliation:
University of California, Santa Barbara, California

Abstract

Seventeenth and eighteenth-century gravestones in Massachusetts are decorated with a traditional set of designs which have distinctive spatial and temporal limits. By treating them as archaeological phenomena, one can demonstrate and test methods of inferring diffusion, design evolution, and relationships between a folk-art tradition and the culture which produced it. Early popularity of death's-head designs reflects Puritan attitudes toward death, while the later cherub, willow tree, and urn motifs indicate the breakdown of these values. Although cherubs appear earliest among an innovating urban class in Cambridge, they remain a relatively minor type in this central area but are rapidly adopted in outlying districts further removed from the center of influence. Imperfect reproduction of certain designs gives rise to distinctive local styles of other areas. The distribution of these local styles in time and space provides further insights regarding religious change in the Colonial period, including a clear indication of how this change proceeded in different geographical areas at different times. Future analysis of this material promises to be quite productive in the areas of experimental archaeology, kinship analysis, demographic studies, style change, and religious change in Colonial America.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Society for American Archaeology 1966

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Footnotes

1

This is an expanded version of a paper presented at the 29th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, May 9, 1964.

References

Chin, Roberta 1963 English Tombstones: An Attempt to Trace Their Relationship to Social Attitudes and to the Tombstone Trends of Colonial New England. Unpublished manuscript, Peabody Museum, Cambridge.Google Scholar
Christison, D. 1902 The Carvings and Inscriptions of the Kirkyard Monuments of the Scottish Lowlands, Particularly in Perth, Fife, Angus, Mearns and Lothian. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Series 3, Vol. 12, pp. 280457.Google Scholar
Forbes, H. 1927 Gravestones of Early New England, 1653–1800. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.Google Scholar
Graham, A. 1957–58 Headstones in Post Reformation Scotland. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Vol. 91, pp. 19.Google Scholar
Mitford, Jessica 1963 The American Way of Death. Simon and Schuster, New York.Google Scholar
Yentsch, Anne E. 1963 Design Elements in Scottish Gravestones. Unpublished manuscript, Peabody Museum, Cambridge.Google Scholar

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