March 3rd 2020
An archaeologist among the gravestones: reading two Irish graveyards
Robert M Chapple
This heavily illustrated lecture recounts the results of surveys carried out to record the gravestones at two sites in the west of Ireland – the graveyards at Killora and Killogillen, near Craughwell, Co. Galway.
Rather than dwelling on individual gravestones, Chapple uses the combined body of evidence to first examine certain quantifiable elements of gravestone wording and decoration. This approach allows us to see when, for example, the IHS symbol or the Omega emerged as part of the local decorative repertoire, how their representations evolved, and how they changed in popularity over time.
Moving beyond this, the lecture seeks to demonstrate how this seemingly simple dataset can reveal deeper understandings about the people who lived and died in this area from how they chose to commemorate their dead. For example, we can draw out some understanding around the sexual and family politics of commemoration as well as how families understood their own structures – all from how they chose to memorialise their dead.
There are numerous asides and speculations about the relationship between hearts and dragons, the height and shape of the wall around heaven, and even why peacocks are considered to be symbols of immortality.
The presentation ends with a call to action in that the techniques used here are applicable to your local graveyards and burying grounds and that the data gleaned from simple surveys can be analysed to provide much deeper understandings of people in the past.
A recording of this talk by Robert Chapple is available online on YouTube at the following link:
Robert M Chapple grew up in the west of Ireland, and received a BA (1991) and MA (1998) in archaeology from UCG/NUIG. Since 1997 he has been based in Belfast, in Northern Ireland. He is a former member of both the Historic Monuments Council and The Joint Committee for Industrial Heritage. After more than 20 years in commercial field archaeology, he left the profession in 2010 and now works in IT, describing himself as a ‘Recovering Archaeologist’. He still maintains a presence in the profession through his writing, blogging, and advocacy activities, along with personal research including the Irish Radiocarbon Determinations and Dendrochronological Dates (IR&DD) project.