Archaeologists are very familiar with the use of ceramic containers to hold the cremated dead for display, storage, transportation and/or burial. Sometimes ‘urn burial’ has been adopted to contain the fragmented unburned dead and there are even archaeological and ethnographic cases of very large urns used to contain unburned adult-sized bodies for burial.
What of ceramics on modern Western commemorative culture? Ceramic vessels and plaques are common features of churchyards and cemeteries, but surely ceramic gravestones don’t exist?
Check out this one from a North Wales cemetery commemorating multiple generations of the Hogg family in Gwersyllt churchyard. Hopefully it will make you think again about the rare (I’m honestly not sure just how rare, but I cannot recall seeing any before) but extant practice of using dark red burned clay as a medium for creating entire headstones and borders in the late 19th/early 20th centuries.
- The point is, this memorial stands out; its dark red colour itself jars with surrounding memorials. It is also a skeuomorph of both stone and wood and a common design found in the medium of stone. Therefore, its wood is a skeuomorph of a skeuomorph: wood rendered usually in stone here rendered in clay. Yet this memorial is evidently not either wood or stone and is not pretending to be either. Another point is that it isn’t fully ceramic: it contains multiple stone commemorative plaques that bear the names of the dead and iron railings. I also like the fact that the monument has been restored – clearly at some point the cross had broken off. A final point is that it is at a weird tilt: like many churchyards there are complex movements in the subterranean features and grave-cuts and this memorial has slumped. Marvel at its ceramic-ness!