What’s the Best for Monuments and Headstones? A Look at Granite

Granite headstone etched with a sun

In our series on materials that are used or have traditionally been used in the making of monuments and memorials, we have looked at granite, marble, sandstone, limestone, bronze, copper, slate, and wood.

In this article we will look at the uses of granite for memorial markers, statues, and tombs.

For millennia people have been building monuments memorializing leaders, deities, war battles and other significant historical events.  While some of these monuments, such as the pyramids of Egypt have survived for thousands of years, others have weathered poorly, and in many cases, have been lost to history.  Granite has survived better than most materials for a simple reason.  Of all the materials used for long-term memorials, few are as tough and durable as granite. 

Because of the way granite is formed it has very tightly packed atoms.  This creates a structure that is very difficult to be broken down by sun, wind, rain or ice.  For exterior monuments and memorials, this makes granite an excellent choice to stand the test of time. 

Granite is much harder than other building materials, even some that are heavier in weight.  For example, steel, which is roughly twice as heavy as granite per cubic foot, has a similar hardness ranking on the standard 1-10 Mohs hardness scale.  Few materials except precious stones are harder.

One of the oldest known granite monuments lies, surprisingly, in New York City.  The Central Park Obelisk, or New York Needle, is one of a trio of granite obelisks originally erected in Egypt around 1450 BC.  The trio, called Cleopatra’s Needle were re-located to Paris, London and New York City.  A fourth matching obelisk still remains in Luxor, Egypt.  The durability of granite is evidenced in these “Needles” which still show legible Egyptian marking on them after more than 3,400 years of exposure to the elements.

The most common use of granite in memorials and monuments is in that of gravestones (tombstones or headstones).  Since it can be found in many colors and skilled stone cutters and engravers can shape it into so many shapes and sizes, granite gives us an endless combination of headstones and grave markers found in cemeteries and memorial settings throughout North America and Europe. 

Granite has replaced slate and marble as the top choice for gravestones in cemeteries.  This has had the added effect of increasing innovative methods of marking stones.  An interesting new trend in the granite headstone industry includes using lasers to etch photographs of people and pets onto the granite surface.

Check out our Ultimate Guide to Headstones for more information about memorials, monuments and grave markers for people and pets.

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