A public meeting will be held about a proposal to exhume remains from Drybread Cemetery as part of a University of Otago research project.
The Historic Cemeteries Bioarchaeology Project for Drybread was announced by the university on Tuesday and is supported by the Drybread Cemetery Trust.
Central Otago District Council parks and recreation manager Gordon Bailey said the council had no responsibility for the cemetery. The cemetery land was owned by the Department of Conservation, and the Drybread Cemetery Trust had been given formal authority over the cemetery under the Burial and Cremation Act.
Trust representative Karen Glassford said the eight trustees were unanimous in their support for the university proposal, while aware of the sensitivity of the project.
“We’re trying to do the best thing for the community.”
The university’s work has already resulted in projects in cemeteries in Milton and Lawrence, where unidentified graves have been located and some remains forensically analysed. All remains have been or will be reinterred.
A similar proposal from the university to exhume remains in Central Otago’s Moa Creek Cemetery was initially supported by cemetery trustees, but turned down by the Central Otago District Council in 2015. Councillors said there had been insufficient public consultation, and Maniototo councillor Stu Duncan said he received overwhelming opposition to the proposal from residents.
The Drybread cemetery records date back to 1870 but it is believed informal burials took place before then.
Mrs Glassford said it was hoped the locations of many graves believed to exist without proper markings would be discovered through the project. Other methods, such as ground penetrating radar, had already been tried unsuccessfully.
Prof Hallie Buckley, of the university’s department of anatomy, said the research provided a valuable range of new evidence about early settlers.