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Types of Stones Used in Monuments

Stones used to make monuments vary across regions of the country and across time periods.

Monument makers would like you to believe that what's written in stone will last forever. If a stone were kept indoors, that may be the case, but most gravestones are, for obvious reasons, placed outside. How long a monument will last depends upon a variety of conditions, including the type and quality of stone used, the depth of the engraving, and the care and upkeep of the stone’s surrounding environment.

Slate was one of the first stones used--that is when carvers took to shaping gravestones and not just using fieldstones--because it is easily accessible, at least in the East, and soft enough to be worked by hand. Slate markers are prone to flaking and they do not lend themselves to deep engraving, which is why slate markers fell out of favor once the means were available to move marble and granite around the country. To view some excellent examples of slate markers, visit the external link Gravestones from the New London (CT) Burial Ground. (Note: Depending on your connection, this page could take a while to download.)

Marble, prized for its whiteness, is a surprisingly soft stone that is prone to crumbling, particularly in the Northeast with the acid rain. Marble also does not hold up well in cemeteries that use above-ground irrigation systems; the spray of the sprinklers creates heavy mineral deposits that can only be washed off with an acid-based solution which not only dissolves the deposits, but the marble too. Marble does provide a striking contrast when lettering and engravings are dyed, as the photo of a marble monument on the right shows.


A marble monument
 Click on the image for a larger


Granite has been, at least for the past 100 years or so, the stone of choice because it comes in so many colors, its texture lends itself well to polishing and sandblasting, and, with new quarrying techniques it is readily available. Rather than drill through the granite, as they had to for most of the twentieth-century, quarry workers now use jet piercers (handheld blow torches) that produce flames 28,000 degrees Fahrenheit to literally melt the rock (Elberton Granite, 1989).

Like marble, granite can be damaged by acid rain and by above-ground irrigation and the resulting build up of mineral deposits, but overall it is the most durable stone available. On the granite monuments on the right, the lighter areas were sandblasted. The darker areas were kept polished to create an effective contrast. Also, a dye was added to the incised lines to emphasize the text and the drawings.

Gray Granite Monument with an image of a couple holding hands walking down a country road

Kendall Monument with pictures of a cat and dog Click on the Kendall photo for a larger image.

Sandstone and limestone were also used in the past, and in some regions of the country, may still be used today.

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