Lesson Plan: Gravestones Basic


This lesson plan asks students to think about how gravestone art has changed over time by creating a seriation study of one of the cemeteries in the Jewish Atlantic World database.


  • To analyze significance of images and text on individual gravestones
  • To understand how gravestones have changed over time using a seriation chart
  • To think about how changes in gravestone art reflect changes in religious beliefs


1-2 weeks


This assignment is intended for college students or advanced high school students.


  • Students will need access to a computer that has an internet connection.  If you want them to do advanced seriation charts, they will also need Excel.

Replica of Gravestone of Mordecai Hezekiah Namias de Crasto (1716) from Beit Haim Cemetery, Blenheim, Curaçao. Photo Laura Leibman, 2008. (Jewish Atlantic World Database)

Lesson Plan Text

Step 1: Prepare Students and Assign Roles

  1. You may want to read Dean Eastman’s “Tiptoeing through the Tombstones.”  This lesson is a variation on his assignment but has been designed for using with Jewish cemeteries and for people whose students don’t live near colonial cemeteries.
  2. Introduce students to the idea of studying cemeteries and doing seriation studies by having them read James Deetz and Edwin Dethlefsen’s “Death’s Head, Cherub, Urn and Willow” (Natural History, 1967) and Laura Leibman and Suzanna Goldblatt’s “Grave Matters: Childhood, Identity, and Converso Funerary Art in Colonial America.” Sephardic Horizons 2.3 (2012).
  3. Have students sign up to work on a specific cemetery in the database. Students can work in small groups or individually.

Step 2: Students create a seriation chart for the cemetery they chose from the database

  1. Students should determine what variables they will enter into their seriation charts.  Are they interested in headers? Images only? Likewise, if their cemetery is large they may want to limit the date range for the stones they will study.  For large cemeteries, I would recommend limiting the range to 100 years.  If you want a shorter assignment, ask students to chart the stones by family rather than by cemetery.  Alternatively you can have students work in groups and divide up the stones in larger cemeteries into reasonable chunks and then create a combined chart.
  2. Here are some blank seriation charts to be completed by students (or you can use your own)

Simple Seriation Chart for Christian Cemeteries (word doc)

Simple Seriation Chart for Colonial Jewish Cemeteries (word doc)

Simple Seriation Chart for Colonial Jewish Cemeteries (pdf)

Advanced Seriation Chart (excel)

Instructions for Excel Charting

Sample Seriation Charts

Step 3. Students graph their results

  1. If students are using excel, they should follow step three on the instructions (“Making Charts”)
  2. If students are using a simple seriation chart, they should complete either the simple seriation graph for a Christian or Jewish cemetery using Deetz and Dethlefsen’s Figure 1 as a model.  Students should list the decades they covered in the left column and then fill in the rectangles under each type of image according to how many stones were found starting at the center of each column.  For example, if one death’s head was found in the first decade, fill in the center rectangle in that row under death’s head.

Step 4. Analyzing Results

  1. After Students have charted their results, they should  compare them to either what was found in the Deetz or Leibman and Goldblatt articles.  You may also want to have students compare their results to those found by others in the class.
  2. Ask students to hypothesize about what the differences (or similarities) mean.

Bibliography & Resources

  • For a Complete Bibliography and Glossary see the Resources page of the Jewish Atlantic World Database.
  • See the Resources page on this site.

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