by Karen Clarke ( NOSAS)
Gravestones seem to speak to us. Although they are not always an accurate historical record they provide valuable family, community, social and economic information. There is merit in documenting them to form permanent archives for historical and ancestral research purposes especially as they are so vulnerable to damage from weather and desecration. Burial grounds are also of interest to visitors and tourists.
Recording within cemeteries can be a controversial activity. Institutions, communities and most importantly relatives and friends of the deceased may have strong views about what, if any, disturbance is appropriate especially when it involves moving memorials from their original site. Exposing turf covered stones without due care, attempting to read lichen covered or laminated stones may damage them and lead to future harm from the elements and cemetery maintenance. Others take the view that much archaeological investigation involves some disturbance and as memorial stones are supposed to be read and the grave occupants remembered if stones are carefully revealed by trained individuals using similar techniques to those employed to record rock art thousands of years old it is perhaps acceptable. There is no doubt that a great many interesting memorials lie beneath the turf. Discretion, respect and the approval of the community should be taken into consideration before embarking on any gravestone recording project.
Tranquil Kiltearn kirkyard was the scene of approved activity during 2017 to record memorials in the ancient burial ground and survey the ruined chapel. This was organised by Evanton Community Trust (www.ect.scot). They were joined by some of the Kiltearn Community, Friends of Arch (www.Arch.co.uk) and members of Nosas (www.Nosas.co.uk).
During the 1970’s concern about the dereliction of London graveyards led to an interest in graveyard conservation. Highgate Cemetery is a well-documented example.
Betty Willsher, an acknowledged authority on Scottish Cemeteries, conducted research, mainly in the South of Scotland whilst drawing attention to Highland Graveyards encouraging appreciation of their cultural significance and vulnerability and calling for greater community involvement in their preservation.
Whilst recording at Kiltearn we were approached by local people and visitors from England, America and South Africa seeking the graves of relatives or an ancestor of the 5th President of America. We conducted many impromptu tours and received valuable information from visitors – it was truly a community project managed by Susan Kruse MBE of Arch and Nosas member. Continue reading