Fascinating and Interesting Headstone History

Headstones are also known as tombstones or gravestones in many parts of the world. Headstones are memorial stones set in the memory of the person at his or her grave. The history of headstone is very interesting as well as fascinating too as you get to know about attitudes, beliefs, and livelihoods of our ancestors. Let’s have a brief look at headstone history. 

The importance of headstone in history can be traced back to Roman and Celtic cultures. The headstones used by the Roman often highlighted the stories of heroic battles fought by the deceased and there was specific mention about the name and title of the deceased. Earlier headstones used to be descriptive in nature. Just a look at the old headstones located in Scotland can prove this point. For example here the headstones used to describe the profession of the deceased.

On the other hand, headstones belonging to the Celtic culture depict simplicity and give no information about their early life. Usually here a headstone used to be a pile of rocks, or a monolith or a massive rock placed at the grave of a person. But things changed a lot when St. Patrick brought Christianity to the Irish land. Soon the headstones were given the shape of Celtic crosses with a circle through the middle.

Soon with the popularity of Christianity in western countries, lot of changes happened in the shape and size of headstones. Now people began to use strong rocks such as limestone, marble, and sandstone to make headstones. By the 1860s, igneous rock (rock cooled underground) was used to make headstones as this material proved to be strong and permanent. Today headstones are inscribed with verses out of the Bible, words of inspiration for the deceased, or words of optimism in regards to eternity and better life.

Trend of headstone in the United States

As far as the trend of headstones in America is concerned, the people of US have followed this concept from their English and European counterparts who immigrated to this country. Initially in the US, the concept of headstones was not very popular. People used piled stones or wood to mark the gravesite of a person in place of traditional headstones. But things changed with development in sectors such as technology and transportation.

In the early days in America, headstones made from Metamorphosis Shale were used. These stones were usually thin and gray in color. From 1650 till 1900, these slate headstones were quite popular. Headstones belonging to this time period used some kind of inscriptions which were readable for a long time. 

During 1650 to 1890, a new trend emerged in the history of headstone in America with the popularity of headstones made of sandstone or brownstone. For making these headstones people used the stone found at Connecticut River Valley area. These headstones were often found in different shades of brown but with time these headstones used to turn back into sand.

During 1780 to 1930, people took more interest in marble headstones or limestone. Marble headstone became a trademark of class and royalty. While the color of headstone made with marble used to be white, the color of limestone headstone were mostly gray. But with time inscriptions on marble and limestone headstones became unreadable and people started looking for other options.

Soon granite headstones hit the headline by 1860 and till date it is a popular material used for making a headstone in America. The longevity factor of granite is much more as compared to other nature rocks and stones. In the US, you can still find granite headstones in gray color. The popularity of granite headstones is such that in many modern cemeteries headstones and grave markers made of granite can only be installed.

To conclude, a lot can be learned about our culture and customs from headstone history. If analyzed properly it will not be wrong to say that headstone history is all about attitudes, beliefs, and livelihoods of our ancestors.

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2 Responses

  1. Al Maletsky
    Al Maletsky at | | Reply

    Thank you Mr. Edwards. Most informative. I am about to start a project depicting
    tombstones in a tabelo of markers in a haunted house party.

    In our case styrofoam, cardboard and paper-mashy will have to do. Al

  2. chris hood
    chris hood at | | Reply

    Actually, I found a poem on both my great great grandparents headstones located in Holy Cross Cemetery in Holy Cross, KY (16 miles south of Bardstown, Kentucky.) I was wondering how my great great grandmother knew of these poems. Did the stonemakers have different epitaphs to chose from or were they found in the newspaper?

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