Science and History Come Alive in the Cemetery

By Lowry, Patricia K.; McCrary, Judy H. | Science Scope, November 2005 | Go to article overview

Science and History Come Alive in the Cemetery


Lowry, Patricia K., McCrary, Judy H., Science Scope


Byline: Patricia K. Lowry and Judy H. McCrary

City cemeteries are often very old, with gravestones dating back to the early 1800s. Some of the markers are carved out of rocks and may be quite simple, containing only names of the deceased and dates of birth and death; others contain no information at all. This is in sharp contrast to some of the very elaborate markers carved out of granite with intricate designs and embellishments that we see today.

A visit to the cemetery coincides with the National Science Education Standards. Part of that process is to develop an understanding about scientific inquiry using different types of investigations. Specifically, it involves developing questions, forming an explanation, and then describing the results.

A trip to the cemetery can be conducted as either a field trip or as a homework assignment. Students are given a guideline with questions addressing issues as they pertain to science and history (see Figure 1). After receiving a self-guided map, students progress at their own speed. During the tour, the students investigate reasons for various observable phenomena. For example, students theorize about why they see tilted markers and sunken graves, providing explanations such as, "The ground has settled over the years due to erosion and rain," or, "Erosion has caused the markers to sit at an angle." Another investigation area involves the surface of the stone markers. A final observation involves identifying specific plants in the cemetery. In addition, back in the classroom, scientific and historical explanations can be investigated through related hand-on discovery opportunities.

Figure 1. Cemetery walking tour.

Science elements

Why are some of the markers tilted?

Examine the surface of a stone. What do you notice about the texture? How legible is the writing? What natural forces act on the stones?

Why are some of the graves sunken?

Name some of the plants or wildflowers that you see growing here (adapted from Hansen 1989). …

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