How to Make an Old Headstone Readable Again 

20 Feb 2024

Restoring the legibility of old headstones is not just about preserving history; it’s a way to maintain a tangible connection to our past, honouring those who came before us. This task becomes more important in Australian locales like the Blue Mountains, Hawkesbury and Nepean district, where the elements conspire to erode these silent structures of legacy. 

Why inscriptions fade 

The inscriptions on headstones fade primarily due to the relentless forces of nature. In areas like the Blue Mountains and the surrounding regions, a combination of factors accelerates this process. The high rainfall, fluctuating temperatures and occasional bushfires contribute to the weathering of stone. Moreover, the natural acidity in rainwater can slowly dissolve the minerals in the headstones, leading to fading inscriptions. The type of stone used also plays a significant role; softer stones such as sandstone or limestone are particularly vulnerable to erosion compared to harder materials like granite or marble. 

Restoring an old headstone 

Making an old headstone readable again involves a few careful steps, ensuring that the restoration efforts do not further damage the stone. Here’s how experienced conservators approach this delicate task: 

Cleaning: The first step is to gently clean the headstone, removing lichen, moss and dirt that can obscure inscriptions. Soft brushes and specific, non-acidic cleaning agents are used to avoid etching the stone further. 

Rubbing: For headstones that are still structurally sound but have faded inscriptions, a technique called “rubbing” can be employed. This involves laying a sheet of paper over the inscription and lightly rubbing a wax crayon or graphite pencil over the surface, which transfers the inscription’s outline onto the paper. This method is non-invasive but requires skill to ensure the entire inscription is captured accurately. 

Digital Enhancement: Technological methods, such as taking a high-resolution photograph and enhancing it digitally, can sometimes reveal inscriptions that are invisible to the naked eye. This technique allows for non-invasive analysis and documentation of headstones. 

Infilling: In some cases, specialists may use infilling techniques to retrace the inscriptions carefully. This method involves applying a conservation-grade material into the eroded inscription lines. However, this process is controversial and is only considered when all other non-invasive methods have been exhausted. 

Preserving the legacy 

Understanding why headstones fade and employing methods to make them readable again is crucial in areas like the Blue Mountains, Hawkesbury and Nepean district. By doing so, we preserve the legacy of those who have passed, ensuring their stories endure for future generations. This task, while challenging, underscores the importance of conservation efforts in maintaining our historical heritage and the irreplaceable value of experienced professionals in this field. 

Here at Ring Memorial, our team of experienced and meticulous professionals can help make an old headstone readable again. We can help further honour your departed loved one and preserve the legacy.