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The mystery of unmarked graves has been revealed during an archaeology research project at Drybread Cemetery. The project unmasked details about unknown burial plots, as well as the discovery of the short-lived goldmining Drybread settlement.

An archaeological investigation at Drybread Cemetery near Omakau has revealed 20 unmarked graves.

At the invitation of Drybread Cemetery Trust, the University of Otago and Southern Archaeology spent about four weeks at the site.

Southern Archaeology director Dr Peter Petchey said they were invited to the cemetery by the trustees, who were concerned records were incomplete due to a fire in the 1930s.

Of the 20 unmarked grave cuts, six were able to be identified by matching locations with surviving records, and were not further investigated, Dr Petchey said.

The team investigated 12 burials, consisting of 10 adults and two infants.

Six of the burials were probably Chinese, and one of the burials had been previously exhumed.

This was probably for transport on the SS Ventnor, which sank in 1902 about 15km from Hokianga Harbour in Omapere and the cargo of about 500 coffins of Chinese gold miners for reburial in their homeland was never recovered.

All the burials at Drybread cemetery appeared to date from the late 19th century, based on the designs of the coffins, many of which had Victorian decorative details, including ornate plates.

The former settlement of Drybread was also identified during the project.

Dr Petchey said a drawing, map and photograph all helped identify the site.

A pencil sketch of the Drybread Settlement, created in 1869 by a goldfields illustrator by the name of Andrew Hamilton, was used to help match the site with the present landscape.

Sketchy details . . . A simple drawing from 1869 by Andrew
Hamilton helped identify where the former goldmining settlement of Drybread stood. PHOTO: SUPPLIED / KAREN GLASSFORD

A map from 1872 helped University of Otago school of surveying lecturer Richard Hemi peg out where remaining huts existed on the site at that time.

A photograph from the late 1860s or early 1870s showed some huts that seemed to match the 1872 map.

Settlement remains …A photo from the late 1860s or early 1870s shows
remaining huts of the Drybread settlement.PHOTO: HOCKEN SNAPSHOP / OTAGO MUSEUM

“So we are pretty certain this is Drybread, this is the township,” Dr Petchey said.

The team also used LiDAR (Light detection and ranging), which was able to reveal a number of small rectangular sites under the surface, that may be from the gold-mining era, or could be more modern.

sluicing operations from clay cliffs that were sluiced with water in the search for gold from the 1860s until the beginning of the 20th century.

The Drybread settlement was in the valley beneath the diggings, so all the tailings, or mud and debris from the sluicing operations, could have covered the settlement up to 12m deep.

“So we are looking carefully on the surface but we are also going to hopefully dig some quite deep holes to see how deep these tailings are likely to be,” Dr Petchey said.

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