Fieldstones. The earliest markers for graves were natural fieldstone, some unmarked and others decorated or incised using a metal awl. Typical motifs for the carving included a symbol and the deceased’s name and age.
Granite. Granite is a hard stone and requires skill to carve by hand. Modern methods of carving include using computer-controlled rotary bits and sandblasting over a rubber stencil. Leaving the letters, numbers and emblems exposed on the stone, the blaster can create virtually any kind of artwork or epitaph.
Marble and limestone. Both limestone and marble take carving well. Marble is a recrystallised form of limestone. The mild acid in rainwater can slowly dissolve marble and limestone over time, which can make inscriptions unreadable. Portland stone was a type of limestone commonly used in England—after weathering, fossiliferous deposits tend to appear on the surface. Marble became popular from the early 19th century, though its extra cost limited its appeal.
Sandstone. Sandstone is durable, yet soft enough to carve easily. Some sandstone markers are so well preserved that individual chisel marks are discernible, while others have delaminated and crumbled to dust. Delamination occurs when moisture gets between the layers of the sandstone. As it freezes and expands the layers flake off. In the 17th century, sandstone replaced field stones in Colonial America. Yorkstone was a common sandstone material used in England.
Slate. Slate can have a pleasing texture but is slightly porous and prone to delamination. It takes lettering well, often highlighted with white paint or gilding.