Rocks Used in Gravestones

Making a gravestone demands much from the rocks used. They must be soft enough to be carved easily, but hard enough to withstand weathering while preserving the inscription. Historically, many types of rocks have been used to make gravestones. When purchasing a gravestone for a loved one, consider the type of stone, durability and weathering patterns.

Graveyard with tombstones.
Graveyard with tombstones. (veger/iStock/Getty Images)
Sandstone

Sandstone is found in many gravestones, especially those from the 1800s and before. It is often found in old graveyards in Europe and America. Sandstone has a very particular weathering pattern. Large cohesive flakes will fall off on occasion, and the inscriptions are illegible after 100 years in most climates.

Sandstone formations in Arizona.
Sandstone formations in Arizona. (Design Pics/Design Pics/Getty Images)
Slate

Slate is another rock often used in gravestones, and it doesn't weather as severely as sandstone. The rock comes in many colors depending on the location it is quarried, with speckled green or even a grayish-purple available. Inscriptions made on slate remain clear even after years of weathering. One negative of slate is its availability. It can be prohibitively expensive in some areas of the world.

Slate stone.
Slate stone. (Colin Walton/Dorling Kindersley RF/Getty Images)
Granite

Granite has always been a common material for gravestones. It withstands environmental forces better than almost any other rock. The speckled rock is also very attractive and comes in a variety of colors, both light and dark. Using laser engraving technology, gravestone makers can etch digital images of great detail into the rock, adding further personalization to a monument.

Man examining sheets of granite.
Man examining sheets of granite. (ColorBlind Images/Blend Images/Getty Images)
Marble

Marble is a very lustrous, smooth material for making gravestones. Though the luster can last for a few decades, longer weathering periods will cause the surface to become rough, and if you rub your hand over it, sand-like particles will come away from the carving. Marble gravestones with elaborate carving can be found in many of the graveyards of Europe.

Marble.
Marble. (Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images)
Limestone

Though it is prone to dissolving in acid rain, limestone has often been used for gravestones. The stone is usually a white or cream color, and it weathers inconsistently, creating a speckled, porous look. Occasionally, limestone will contain fossilized bones and shells, which do not dissolve as quickly as the surrounding rock. After weathering, these features will be revealed, creating beautiful patterns in the rock.

Limestone.
Limestone. (humbak/iStock/Getty Images)
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