Archaeology at Rosemary Cemetery

Students documenting

By Lauren Hanson:
Yes, this is what Team Rosemary did during the month of intensive survey in January 2001. We wrote. And we drew and measured headstones. Less creepy than you though, huh -- NO DIGGING. You see, in order for the Rosemary Cemetery to become nominated as a site on the National Registrar of Historic Places, a thorough site survey has to be taken, with each grave photographed and recorded. So that's what we did.

A brief guide to what we did (and how we did it), step-by-step.

1. The team of eight was broken down into four groups of two. Each pair was assigned a quadrant of the cemetery, with two teams combining to help do quadrants E & F.

2. When approaching a lot, we first did a general inspection to make sure there wasn't any natural erosion or human vandalism. For example, if a tree had uprooted part of a vault (and this was pretty common), we marked the location and made a note for future restoration.

3. We filled out a complete assessment for each marked grave. The assessment contained places to describe the size, shape, and building materials used in each grave. We noted headstone, whether or not there was a family headstone, vault cover, footstone, fencing, and coping. We also made detailed evaluations of the condition of a grave, whether or not there was moss or lichens on a grave. Next, we noted if there were any offerings at the grave.

4. If there was a headstone, we recorded the size to the nearest 1/8 of an inch. Usually, archaeologists would measure in centimeters - why the switch? We made an exception to the metric-only rule because the National Register of Historic Places requires surveys in standard measurements.

5. After noting the condition of a grave thoroughly, whichever team member was surveying the grave would sketch the grave on an information sheet. The sketch included the position of a grave in a particular lot (most lots hold up to four graves, some hold up to eight), and a detailed drawing of the styles and engravings of the headstone and/or footstone.

6. We repeated steps 2-5 about 660 times.

No Palaces or Skulls? Is this really archaeology?

Less glamorous, but it IS archaeology.

Because, unlike digging at temples or finding a million year old skull, this is the kind of archaeology that has cross-checks. Our best cross-check at the Rosemary Cemetery was the Toale Brothers Funeral Home accounting records. For example:

You find a grave in-between Lot 18 and Lot 19, but you're not sure if your measurements are off, or, if your measurements are correct, who this person is and why they are buried in what you think should be a walkway. What to do?

Go to the Toale Brothers records and look up the names of the owners of Lots 18 and 19. Maybe the name matches up to the owner of Lot 18. Now you know that the buried is a relative of someone in Lot 18. With a few careful measurements, you can look back at the original map of the cemetery to determine if the burial is legit, or if the person was buried cheaply under a walkway.

Here, you have used two primary historic documents - the funeral home's accounting records and the original site layout for the cemetery - to determine who a person is and why they are buried in a particular spot.

Historic archaeology...

tries to reach a past that is often inaccessible through 'history'. Everyone knows that history is written by the winner: the people and events remembered in history books are usually of significance on the grand level, or they affected rich and powerful people. Although archaeology has its biases, it is a way to reach back into history and find things out about people's everyday lives - or to find out about people that weren't written into 'textbook' history.

When most people think of Sarasota's history, they will think of John and Mable Ringling, Marie Selby or Owen Burns. In fact, these people did make and change the face of the city. But the city was made and re-made daily by all of its inhabitants - the poor Scottish immigrants of the 19th century, and the middle class who worked, retired, lived and died here as Sarasota grew and changed into the city it is in the 21st century. Many of these people - likely, the ancestors of yours or your classmates - are literally written into history by the techniques of historic archaeology.