Artifact Corner: Historic Graffiti

Hi Everyone, and welcome back to another artifact corner. Today we will be looking at a unique piece in our collections. It’s a piece of stone. Now you might ask, why on earth would a family keep a piece of stone? This one has been carved, and held some special significance to the carver, and subsequently his family. This stone is carved with I.C. BLooDgoo / AD 1807/ MAX. The “d” appears to have been lost from the end of the name Bloodgood. This must be a family piece for Frank Bloodgood Hall, who was married to our Fannie Delord Webb Hall. We do not know the history of this stone, or why Frank had it in his possessions, but clearly it had some importance to him and his family. Carving things into stone was not a new phenomenon, even 200 years ago. Let’s learn a bit about stone carving, or what we might today call historic graffiti.

Since the New Stone Age (between 10,000 BCE to 2,000 BCE) people have been manipulating stone to make tools, sculptures, and other important and useful objects. And just like today, people wanted to leave their mark on their surroundings. One of the ways they did this was by carving images or messages into stone. This style of expression is called a petroglyph, which means a rock carving made by using a chisel on stone. Stone carving messages became insanely popular with the Greeks and Romans, and museums around the globe have tablets covered with Greek and Latin text. But people were also carving messages and art work into stones in their landscape. Roman soldiers posted at Hadrian’s Wall left messages about the fact that they were rebuilding of the wall, who the commanding officer was at the time, and even left behind a caricature of a low-level officer who they apparently didn’t care for. There is also a ton of graffiti in Pompeii that has been beautifully preserved thanks to the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD.

The trend of carved graffiti continued through the Middle Ages. Archaeologists working on the excavation of the church of St. Mary’s in Stoke Mandeville in England have been finding lots of stone graffiti. The church was originally built in the 11th Century, and was expanded in the mid-14th Century. Most of the graffiti appears to be made to ward off evil spirits, and protect those inside the church. Not all graffiti in the Middle Ages was religious though. The Tower of London is rife with graffiti from prisoners. This makes a lot of sense, because the people imprisoned had a lot of time on their hands. The sheer volume of stone carving at the tower is astounding and quite varied. Some of it is beautifully wrought with intricate motifs, while others seem hurriedly scrawled. The trend of leaving one’s mark continued throughout the Renaissance, and through the 18th and 19th Centuries. It was a very common practice in the Victorian period to carve your name into stone at historic sites, like you can see here. This is a picture from just down the road from us at His Majesty’s Fort at Crown Point. Victorian tourists flocked to this site, and couldn’t resist the urge to leave their mark behind.

Today it is very much frowned upon to mar historic sites, so if you are visiting one, please leave your stone chisel at home. This piece is in good condition, and thankfully because it is stored indoors and out of the elements, it will be preserved even longer. It’s a lovely example of Regency Era stone graffiti and we are so lucky to have it in our collections. Thanks so much for stopping by!

Music: Acoustic Breeze by Benjamin Tissot,