Death heads are common mortality symbols seen on old headstones. The earliest examples are crudely carved skulls with crossed femurs underneath. The changing fashion throughout the centuries softened this look by changing the skull to an angelic face. The crossed femus were replaced with wings or foliage, each having their own meaning. Wings and feathers are depicting the ascent to Heaven. A skull represents ‘death‘.
Cemetery Death Heads Portfolio
To take a look at the changing fashion, please read my article, Cemetery Death Heads. Below, I’ve compiled a selection of my favourite photographs showcasing the different styles.
Lastly, the cemetery death heads we see today on headstones are common ‘Memento Mori‘ symbols from the 16th to 17th centuries. They warn us that no matter what our status is in life, we are all the same in death. In addition, live life for today as death is always lurking in the form of plagues or disease.
Reading Chris Raymond’s article, Cemetery Headstone Symbols: Death’s Head will provide you with further information. I especially like his reference to collar and shoulder’s replacing the wings or femurs on later examples.