• Harvey Thorleifson, Chair
    Minnesota Geological Survey
  • Carrie Jennings, Vice Chair
    Minnesota Geological Survey
  • David Bush, Technical Program Chair
    University of West Georgia
  • Jim Miller, Field Trip Chair
    University of Minnesota Duluth
  • Curtis M. Hudak, Sponsorship Chair
    Foth Infrastructure & Environment, LLC


Paper No. 10
Presentation Time: 11:15 AM


ROSSI, Rebecca K. and KEY Jr, Marcus M., Earth Sciences, Dickinson College, P.O. Box 1773, Carlisle, PA 17013-2896,

In late 17th century Virginia, one of the ways affluent colonists were exhibiting their wealth and memorializing themselves was with engraved tombstones. Wealthy colonists in the Tidewater of Virginia at this time preferentially selected polished, fine-grained, black limestone for their gravestones. A total of eight gravestones were sampled from cemeteries in Jamestown, Williamsburg, Ware and Christ Churches. Macrofossils were analyzed photographically and microfossils were analyzed through thin sections.

Historical, archaeological, lithological, and paleontological evidence support the hypothesis of a European source. Preserved wills from some colonists requesting black “marble” gravestones from London provide historical evidence. The importation of other manufactured goods in late 17th century Virginia from Europe is evident in the archaeological record. Biostratigraphic analysis of 12 identified genera of algae, foraminiferans, corals, and bryozoans indicate an age of Middle Mississippian (Viséan Stage, Asbian substage, ~330 Ma). Paleobiogeographic analysis of these 12 genera indicate they only co-occur in Belgium and England, and these are the likely sources of the black limestone gravestones.

Possible closer sources of similar lithology and age from west of the Blue Ridge of the Appalachian Mountains include the Greenbrier and Cove Creek Limestones, 460 km away in southwestern Virginia. These can be rejected as sources as there is historical evidence of hostile Native American tribes occupying the area at the time. This would have made transport of these large (mean cut and polished dimensions:188×102×13 cm; ~700 kg) limestone blocks over the Blue Ridge logistically difficult. Lastly, the assemblage of fossil genera preserved in the gravestones does not occur in North America.

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