Research into Gravestones

As part of my research, I took a look online at the history of gravestones to draw inspiration from. This gave me the opportunity to work out what works and doesn’t work when engraving type into stone. I also want to look at other embellishments that I might add to my own design to add interest to the gravestone.

The official description of “gravestone” is ‘a stone placed on a burial plot which is often inscribed in order to mark the person or persons who are buried there’.  In earlier times, people were buried near their family homes, not in communal cemeteries like today.

The term gravestone has emerged from a Jewish custom, wehere the visitor would place a stone/stones at the head as a sign of respect to the deceased. This was inspired by a Jew who broke the Sabbath in order to write a note to solve a crime. He later felt guilty, and wanted his grave to be “stoned” after he has passed. The tradition became popular after this incident.

Churchyard burials became increasingly popular, and evolved through the period of 1650-1900, where variations of different shapes made from sandstone or slate replaced the random rocks that were used previous to this period. Inscriptions carved on slate were often shallow, and overtime this has worn due to weather errosion, making the inscription unreadable.

Public Cemeteries in the 19th Century evolved. People were giving more and more importance to the headstone, as it means to memorialize death. People started to write less and less on the gravestone, and used the symbolism of the headstone as the main memorial, not the words as such.

Since the 1850s, granite has been used a the material of choice for gravestones as it is resilient against weather errosion and easily accessible. The same can be said about marble, bronze and limestone, which has been discovered and used more frequently


Engraving takes a huge amount of patience and skill in order to get the desired crisp lettering effect. Historically, craftsmen would hand engrave the stone, however this would take a huge amount of time and effort. In the modern day, gravestones are often laser etched using computers to coordinate diamond tipped routers in order to save time. This also means that incredible detail can be engraved onto stone. Even photographs of the deceased can be carved in an inexpensive way.


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