Researcher's slog pays off

Nancy Beavan
Nancy Beavan
International interest is growing in a mysterious ancient people, which University of Otago researcher Dr Nancy Beavan has been doggedly investigating for the past 10 years, with little previous funding.

That lack of funding and the semi-obscurity in which Dr Beavan has previously been working, while living mostly in Cambodia, has changed dramatically this year.

Research by her and international colleagues, including Dr Sian Halcrow, a lecturer in the Otago anatomy department, featured in a leading article in the international journal Radiocarbon this year.

She and a international team of researchers have been shedding light on the lost history of this unidentified mountain people by studying their burial rituals.

Some leading international magazines have also featured the research.

Dr Beavan, a senior research fellow in the Otago anatomy department, has just gained a $720,000 grant from the prestigious Marsden Fund to continue the work over the next three years.

Dr Beavan discussed her research at the Otago Museum on Thursday night, as part of a series of talks and activities titled "Beyond the Grave", which are this month delving into "the fascinating topic of death", organisers say.

She was happy to gain the funding after putting in years of hard work in the rugged and remote Caradom Mountains in southern Cambodia, she said in an interview.

"I've done the hard yards.

"It's a classic example - sometimes persistence pays off."

Earlier this year, the scientists provided the first radiocarbon dates for unusual jar and log coffin interments found on exposed ledges high in these mountains.

This work shows that mysterious funerary rituals, which were unlike any other recorded in Cambodia, were practised from at least AD1395 to AD1650.

She confined her recent grant award celebrations to one day.

"Now, I have to really get to work."

john.gibb@odt.co.nz