Cemetery Conservation

Identifying Materials


Headstones - Footstones

Various materials have been used historically as headstones and footstones. In spite of the name they are not all necessarily made of stone, although stone is the most common material used. Stone is more or less resistant to weathering and other damage in accordance with the physical and chemical properties of the rock concerned. Because of this it is important that a properly trained expert directs the application of any conservation treatment to a headstone or footstone (whether of rock or other material).

Three of the more common and durable rock types that are relatively hard are listed below.

Granite which can be of red, black, or shades of grey, is the strongest and most long-lasting stone. It can have polished faces or rough faces, or a combination of both. Inscriptions do not erode easily. It remains relatively free of lichen and moss.

Slate has not been widely used in New Zealand as it has to be imported. It can be long-lasting and usually remains free of growths but can split along cleavage planes.

Marble is usually white in colour, is a reasonably hard stone and long-wearing, but is subject to staining as salts emerge, and also suffers from some erosion.

Two relatively soft (sedimentary) rock types are also fairly common.

Limestone is a soft stone which is white in colour when new. It erodes badly and grows mosses and lichen well.

Sandstone is much like limestone but is usually brown to grey in colour. Undressed stone of varying rock types sometimes serves as a headstone. In general, unpolished stone is more susceptible to weathering and other damage.

Wood was used in the early days but is not a longlasting material unless it is in a very dry situation.

Bronze plaques are sometimes used to good effect. They are long-lasting and almost indestructible.

Brass is widely used on cremation kerbstones. It suffers from tarnishing which can remove the incised lettering.

Plastic coated plaques have proven to be totally unsatisfactory and should be replaced. Cast Iron headstones should be treated as for wrought iron (read further on).

Please use the link bar on the right to read more information on how to conserve cemeteries.