Date of Degree
James A. Moore
William J. Parry
Diana DiZerega Wall
Nan A. Rothschild
New York City, Historical Archaeology, Urban Archaeology, Cemeteries, Burial Grounds, Deathscapes
It has long been understood by archaeologists that while cemeteries are built by the living to serve the dead, burial grounds can also serve as significant cultural spaces utilized by and integral to the cultural traditions of the living. The study of cemetery sites is therefore critical to the understanding of many aspects of a given culture. Archaeologists often analyze the cemetery sites in a larger region through the lens of a “deathscape,” a macro-scale analytical tool similar to the anthropological concept of a landscape, but which instead focuses on the various cultural processes associated with death: from illness and dying to mortuary behavior, burial, and memorialization. New York City—including the five boroughs of the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island—has been a center of commerce since its establishment as a colonial outpost in the 17th century and its urban development has outpaced many other major American cities. The city has been the site of hundreds upon hundreds of burial places, some of which have remained perpetually preserved and others that have been obliterated and redeveloped with or without the removal of the human remains lying within. While previous attempts have been made to document the cemeteries of New York City from historical or genealogical perspectives, to date, a comprehensive archaeological analysis of the city’s cemeteries has not been completed. This study was therefore completed to better understand the use and reuse of burial space in New York City and to identify patterns in how that portion of its deathscape made up of cemeteries was formed, reshaped, and maintained over time leading to the burial landscape seen in the modern city in the present day.
Following a period of intensive documentary research, 527 burial sites were identified within New York City as part of this study of the city’s deathscape. Each cemetery was mapped within a Geographic Information System (GIS) and entered into a database and classified according to a series of characteristics (e.g., location, type, dates of use, current status, etc.). This study examines the cemeteries within the data set in order to better understand several critical aspects of the New York City deathscape, including its initial formation within the context of New York City’s historic period occupation, development, and its increasingly stringent municipal regulation of burial space. The burial sites included in the data set were then compared and contrasted to identify the patterns that governed (and continue to govern) the establishment and use of cemeteries in New York City and the patterns that lead to the selective preservation or obliteration of certain cemeteries and/or the relocation of human remains to new burial sites as the deathscape evolved. This analysis concludes that cemetery obliteration and the removal and relocation of remains were heavily influenced by three factors: institutionalized colonial power structures that continued to govern land use and access to space throughout the post-colonial period and into the present; the intensity of urban development and population growth in New York City; and changing connections between kin networks and social groups to specific spaces and places over time. Finally, this study includes a summary of the growth of archaeology as a profession in New York City and a synthesis of historical and modern archaeological investigations in the region that have contributed to archaeologists’ knowledge of the deathscape. The GIS-based maps documenting the past and present locations of burial grounds are intended to be used as sensitivity maps that can be utilized by archaeologists to protect sites known to be sensitive for human remains from disturbance during future development. Despite the large number of burial sites identified during this study, it is likely that many more remain undiscovered, and there is therefore great potential for the continued analysis of the New York City deathscape in the future as new burial sites are identified and documented.
Meade, Elizabeth D., "“Prepare for Death and Follow Me:” An Archaeological Survey of the Historic Period Cemeteries of New York City" (2020). CUNY Academic Works.