The Dead’s Vitality: Maintaining Souls in Virginia Communities

Author(s): Alison Bell

Year: 2016


Solar-powered bulbs and flapping-winged ladybugs, wind chimes, whirligigs, jack-o-lanterns, valentines to the deceased, and much else adorn gravesites in the Valley of Virginia. A 2003 bowling trophy sits on the headstone of a person who died in 2001. A stuffed rabbit faces another stone and holds recent photos of children, as if showing them to the buried teen. These objects relate not only to the deceased’s personal histories and interests but also represent gestures, through exchange and otherwise, to retain them in webs of social connection. Employing light, movement, sound, written and visual communication in cemetery landscapes, the living work to keep invisible souls present and participatory in daily life. This paper draws on anthropological understandings of personhood to contend that many Virginians understand themselves as "people with a strong sense of community, and being dead is no impediment to belonging to it."

Cite this Record

The Dead’s Vitality: Maintaining Souls in Virginia Communities. Alison Bell. Presented at Society for Historical Archaeology, Washington, D.C. 2016 ( tDAR id: 434478)

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Temporal Keywords

Spatial Coverage

min long: -129.199; min lat: 24.495 ; max long: -66.973; max lat: 49.359 ;

Individual & Institutional Roles

Contact(s): Society for Historical Archaeology

Record Identifiers

PaperId(s): 258