The three-week excavation of gold-mining era graves in two Lawrence cemeteries and DNA analysis of their occupants is expected to start in April, once the final archaeology authority from Heritage New Zealand is received.
University of Otago’s project co-directors – bioarchaeologist Prof Hallie Buckley and archaeologist Dr Peter Petchey – are assembling a team of 10 to 15 people, including postgraduates, and organising accommodation in anticipation of receiving final approval for the project.
“We need to have enough skilled people to help with the work,” Prof Buckley said.
“Since we held the public meeting in Lawrence last year, we have received all the support and permissions that are required, from the council and the Chinese community.”
She said they intend to excavate and investigate graves in both the old cemetery, which is now on private land, and the existing one, and will be looking for unmarked graves.
There is a story that one person was left behind when the other graves in the old cemetery were exhumed and moved to the new cemetery.
“We will be looking for the one left behind,” she said.
“At the moment, the plan is [if they are found] they will be exhumed and moved to the new cemetery.”
They also intend to look at the southern end of the new cemetery, where unmarked graves belonging to Chinese immigrants and paupers are believed to be.
That includes investigating an area over the fence on a neighbouring farmer’s property.
“He has given his permission and it will be useful for him to know whether there are graves in the paddock or not. We did some work in Milton in 2016, and the farmer there was grateful so he could adjust fencing etcetera.”
Although there were some grave markers, the Chinese community did not think the markers related to the graves’ occupants.
“We will also be doing a bit of historical investigation about who would be buried there.”
They will take DNA samples for analysis to determine how healthy the individuals were.
Remains will be reinterred where they came from.