A murder cold case or Maori burial site are the latest explanations for human remains found at a Napier building site this week.

Theories were discussed by local historians and archaeologists while forensic testing of the remains, which included an adult-sized skull and bones, was carried out in Wellington.

A builder digging 700mm deep holes for a fence line on a small construction site at the southern end of Hastings St found the bones about 11.15am on Thursday.

Hawkes Bay Museum and Art Gallery curator Douglas Lloyd Jenkins suggested the bones were not likely to be from a 1931 earthquake victim, but rather something more sinister.


"If they aren't older than the 19th century then my suspicion is it's a crime,'' he said.

"My gut feeling is there is no other good reason to be buried under a fence in Hastings St.''

It was likely a quake victim at a small residential address, such as where the bones were found, would have been easy to locate after the quake.

"Ten to 15 bodies are still to be uncovered from the earthquake, but it is more likely they would be found in more commercial premises or complex situations.

"A lot of those bodies will never be uncovered as they were partly incinerated or cleared away with rubble.''

Assistant curator Evan Greensides would spend time comparing information about the address where the bones were found to earthquake casualty-information lists.

Local archaeologist Elizabeth Pishief visited the site yesterday and suggested the remains were that of a Maori burial site.

"They are old bones so they are probably 200 years old, or they might be older,'' she said.

"They look as if they are from a Maori burial site from before Europeans were here, and they didn't come to Hawke's Bay until the 1840s.

"There was no evidence of European materials and there were a lot of old Maori fireplaces so it's a proper archaeological site.''

Acting Detective Senior Sergeant Emmet Lynch said both theories were possibilities.

"Obviously it is not a freshly buried body, we can tell that from the decolouration of the bones,'' he said. "But we don't quite know really how old.

"We have a number of cold cases we are dealing with, but are very curious and keen to find the age of this find and see what investigations we have on the books that could line up.''

Mr Lynch said police were contacting families of cold case victims to inform them of the find.