Graves and skeletons are being dug up Lawrence, Otago, but it is not grave robbers hoping for loot but University of Otago researchers conducting a project which aims to give insight on what life was like during the great gold rush.
Exciting discoveries were already been unearthed as a town legend that a body had been left behind after graves were moved turned out to be true.
"In the old cemetery we wanted to establish whether there are still graves present after supposed exhumations occurred when the area was closed," said Professor Hallie Buckley of the department of anatomy.
"The local legend was that one person was left behind. In the first few days on-site we've confirmed there were at least four other people left behind, and there are at least three other grave cuts present which we are investigating for skeletal remains."
The project, The Otago Historic Cemeteries Bioarchaeology Project, is focused on the original Lawrence cemetery, which closed in 1867, on Ardrossan St, and the Chinese area of the town's more recent Gabriel St cemetery.
In the new cemetery on Gabriel St, the team wants to establish whether some graves in areas around the Chinese section also include the graves of other marginalised people.
Further aims of the project include creating a detailed picture of what life was like at the time of the gold rush, the early 1860s.
The remains could reveal aspects of people's health, diet and overall quality of life.
Anthropology and archaeology honorary research fellow Dr Peter Petchey said the project provided a rare opportunity to discover new details about members of Otago's gold-rush society.
"We can learn about aspects of their health and wellbeing, the makeup of the population, burial traditions, and compare all of the above with our other research project in Milton."
The project required a thorough consultation processes, with respect for the dead of utmost importance.
The research team consulted with the Lawrence community through public meetings and media releases, and gained the permission of the Lawrence Community Board and the Clutha District Council, local Chinese community leaders and Otakou Runanga.