On Thursday, in Anthropology 395 we learned about cleaning gravestones with help from Angela Dyck, a recent graduate from UVic. Working in Emanu-El cemetery has created a bond between my class and the people buried here. It may seem strange as some people were born 100 years before us, but a connection is made through the valuable field experience my classmates and I have gained working and learning with their monuments. Cleaning degraded monuments is an incredibly rewarding feeling as it is a way to give back to the deceased and restore their monuments so their family and friends can pay their respects. A monument is able to tell a story about someone, through the kind words chosen by their loved ones, or symbols that represent an important aspect in their life. Unfortunately, over time many monuments suffer natural environmental degradation, especially in the rain heavy climate of Victoria. Lichen and moss excel in these climatic conditions and can seriously damage and stain the monument. If cleaned early enough they are easy to remove, but it is hard to find the people and time to continuously clean them. It is also argued that monuments should not be cleaned, as they are seen as final resting places that should just become a part of the Earth and its environment. My personal stance is somewhere in the middle, as some monuments are too damaged that cleaning them might further the problem. But in some cases, a quick careful clean can get rid of the dirt, lichen, and moss, making the inscription legible again. It is vital to assess the monument and determine if it is in good enough condition to be cleaned. This is determined by the type of stone used (granite, marble, sandstone), and the condition of the monument. If a stone is flaking or scaling it is best to not clean them as it will only further damage the stone. In Emanu-El cemetery, granite is the most common stone used, and the only ones we cleaned. Marble is often avoided as it is too soft, and sandstone is never cleaned.
I will now be sharing some of the important steps I learned today to ensure a successful monument clean. The most important rule is to be gentle and careful when scrubbing monuments. Because of the age of some monuments it is easy to damage them if proper care is not exercised. We used a wide variety of tools ranging from hand scrubbers, toothbrushes, chopsticks, sponges, and a biological stone cleaning solution. It is important that all bristles are plastic, and having a range of soft and hard bristles can be handy to see what works best for the various types of monuments. The chopsticks are a great tool for scrubbing incised scripture as it can fit into most small letters without damaging the monument. A biological stone cleaning solution is key for monument cleaning, as it ensures no damage to the stone and is great for getting rid of tough grime. Using one of the tools dipped in the organic cleaning solution, we began to gently clean the stone using circular motions to avoid streaking or destruction of the stone. Using the various tool provided we slowly worked away the grime that has built up over many years, and cleaned the lichen and moss that was growing on and around the monument. Seeing the end result of our work was extremely rewarding because it enables their story to continue to be told through their monument. Overall it was a great learning experience and I wish we had the time and resources to clean more monuments throughout the cemetery. I know there are volunteer groups in Victoria that clean monuments, which myself, and many of my classmates’ I’m sure will be participating in!