I seem to be doing a nice side-line in ceramic death posts. Previously I’ve noted the rare but significant use of ceramics as a medium for commemorating the dead in the 19th and early 20th centuries in North Wales, with examples from Gwersyllt and Minera. Recently, however, I was in the Potteries Museum in Stoke-on-Trent and I was struck by this far-earlier example. In a region rich in potteries, it is perhaps hardly surprising that funerary memorials also adopted baked clay as a means of marking and memorialising the lives of loved ones.
This single gravestone, clearly unusual, but perhaps not unique – helps us to recall that stone isn’t required, and isn’t always preferred to remember the dead. Indeed, iron is a further material that was widely deployed in funerary contexts during the industrial revolution in some parts of Britain and Scandinavia. Sometimes, in certain locales, other materials – wood and ceramics included – can provide cheap and readily available alternatives in industrial communities.
In this instance, the memorial subject is a young woman of 17 years who died late in 1790. I wonder how many 18th and 19th-century gravestones were made from clay in this region? In any case, this wonderful exhibit speaks to broader archaeological assumptions, particularly among prehistorians, who equate longevity and mortality with specific forms of lithic materiality.