Cemetery research investigation proposed by university

Drybread Cemetery, near Omakau. Photo: Supplied
Drybread Cemetery, near Omakau. Photo: Supplied
A historic Central Otago cemetery could be the next site of a University of Otago research project that locates unknown graves and provides forensic detail of unidentified remains.

The Historic Cemeteries Bioarchaeology Project is proposed for Drybread Cemetery, near Omakau, and has the support of the Drybread Cemetery trustees.

Trust representative Karen Glassford said the eight trustees were unanimous in their support for the university proposal, while aware of the sensitivity of the project.

''We've done everything incredibly slowly and carefully. We're trying to do the best thing for the community. To us it's about care and respect.''

The university has already done similar research projects in cemeteries in Milton and Lawrence, where unidentified graves have been located and some remains forensically analysed. All remains have been or will be reinterred.

A similar proposal several years ago from the university, to exhume remains in Central Otago's Moa Creek cemetery, was initially supported by Moa Creek trustees, but turned down by the Central Otago District Council, in 2015.

Stu Duncan
Stu Duncan

Councillors said there had been insufficient public consultation, and Maniototo councillor Stu Duncan said he had received more phone calls of concern about the cemetery proposal than about any other issue in his 15 years as a local body representative.

Cr Duncan said he was still opposed to such projects, which he believed to be academic projects ''for the sake of research''.

Prof Hallie Buckley, of the university's Department of Anatomy, said the research provided valuable information and ''a chance to ... see a greater picture of what life was like for those early settlers''.

District council parks and recreation manager Gordon Bailey said the cemetery land was owned by the Department of Conservation, and the Drybread Cemetery Trust had been given formal authority over the cemetery under the Burial and Cremation Act.

Drybread Cemetery records date back to 1870 but it is believed burials took place before then.

A public meeting will be held at 6.30pm on July 12 in the Omakau Hall.

pam.jones@odt.co.nz

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