By Tim Brown of RNZ
Researchers will today begin the excavation of parts of the historic Drybread Cemetery in Central Otago in a bid to locate unmarked graves.
Drybread, near Omakau, was established in the early 1860s as a gold-rush settlement but faded away about 30 years later as the diggers moved on.
The cemetery dates back to that time, and many unmarked graves are believed to lie outside its fenced boundary.
A team from Otago University and Southern Cemeteries Archaeology is expected to be at the site for about a month.
Project co-leader, professor Hallie Buckley, told RNZ last month subsequent research was expected to take a year.
"We know formally the first burial was recorded in 1870, but it's highly likely that there would've been people buried from the gold rush period if not before," she said.
A number of unmarked graves and inconclusive records at the cemetery led the Drybread Cemetery Trust to approach the University of Otago and Southern Archaeology Ltd for assistance in learning the true extent of the cemetery's borders and location of burial plots in areas which were unrecorded but suspected of containing human graves.
Drybread was a classic gold rush-era settlement at the foot of the Dunstan Mountains in the upper reaches of the Manuherikia Valley, Central Otago.
The settlement was established in circa 1862.
Otago's bioarchaeology experts have conducted similar research at cemeteries in Milton, Lawrence and Cromwell.
The project involved locating unmarked graves, exhumation and relocation of some graves, surveying and archaeological analysis of the site.
No marked graves will be excavated in any way.
Project work included searching for the Drybread settlement site, working alongside Chinese and Drybread communities to identify areas inside and outside the present cemetery boundaries that contained unmarked and unknown graves, and excavation to determine the true boundary of the cemetery.
A sample of remains would be analysed to determine aspects of the deceased's past such as ethnicity, age and sex. A picture of their life history could then be created through evidence of diet, disease or physical trauma.
The trust was eager for the project to answer long-standing questions over the cemetery and those buried within its uncertain border.