About the Project

Mortuary data consists of above-ground evidence, particularly the layout of graveyards and the monuments within them, and also below-ground evidence. The latter is less easily studied, but important collections are becoming available. Research is also taking place on cemeteries and their monuments.

Graveyards and graveyard monuments

A large number of graveyard recording projects have been undertaken on memorials from the historic period. Some general issues have underpinned our studies and informed wide-ranging questions regarding commemoration, memory and identity. Most memorials have been of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, and major projects have commenced in:

Regional studies

There are specific characteristics that have arisen in each region where the evidence is particularly suitable for the examination of particular issues. All evidence feeds into these general questions:

  • What was the chronology of external memorial?
  • In what ways were the aspirations of families manifested in the material form and text of memorials?
  • Which aspects of the deceased's identities were emphasised on the memorial?
  • What factors affected the spatial development of graveyards?
  • To what extent did the attributes of monument form, material, textual content and symbolism vary independently of each other?
  • How do the monument choices in cemeteries vary from those in graveyards in the same region, and why?

Burial evidence

Below-ground evidence of burial is also being researched through results obtained at Kellington Church, North Yorkshire, and through collaboration with fieldworkers around the country and abroad. Several important themes are being addressed:

  • What was the chronology of coffined burial?
  • In what ways were investment in the coffin and funeral matched with that of the memorial?
  • To what extent was stylistic change in monuments mirrored by that in coffin fittings?
  • What were the material effects of body snatching in Britain and Ireland?

These research programmes continue to make significant contributions to current debates in historical archaeology, particularly on the changing role of material culture in an increasingly consumerist culture, and in the study of individual and group identity.

Protocols for recording and analysing graveyard and cemetery monuments

Building on all the recording, analysis and interpretation carried out at numerous sites in England, Wales, Ireland and the Isle of Man since the original recording system was published in 2000 (H Mytum Recording and Analysing Graveyards, Council for British Archaeology Handbook 15), the guidance is being completely revised and re-written., This is part of the DEBS project and takes into account developments in technology and our understanding of how monuments and burial landscapes can be interpreted, as seen in many publications.