Exhumed skeletons yield clues

Archaeology students Teina Tutaki (left) and Alana Kelly hold up Henry Pim's headstone after it was found broken and buried at the St John's burial ground at Tokoiti. Photo: Supplied
Archaeology students Teina Tutaki (left) and Alana Kelly hold up Henry Pim's headstone after it was found broken and buried at the St John's burial ground at Tokoiti. Photo: Supplied
University of Otago researchers are gaining fresh insights into the life of early European settlers in Otago through the exhumed of skeletons from unmarked graves in a burial ground near Milton.

Prof Hallie Buckley is co-leading the research project with Dr Peter Petchey and Prof Lisa Matisoo-Smith.

The university team was working with local community group Tokomairiro Project 60 (TP60) and the Anglican Church, she said.

Archaeological and forensic analysis of the cemetery and those buried there was being carried out by the research team.

The research involves analysing DNA, bones, hair and teeth as well as using strontium isotopes to help pinpoint where in the UK the settlers came from.

The biological information would be integrated with historical research gathered by TP60 and death certificates to identify more people.

Detailed mapping and geophysical surveying of the burial ground and careful archaeological excavation of selected areas was carried out at the end of last year.

Sixteen graves were found outside the boundaries of the present cemetery, confirming the ''common suspicion'' the cemetery was larger than its physical boundary.

TP60 had located records of 68 burials at the cemetery at Tokoiti.

A public meeting will be held on August 15 at the Milton Coronation Hall to unveil the initial findings of the study.

The researchers are seeking further information from living descendants on some of the people identified so far, including Robert Rowley Thomson, Flora Clementine Weber (nee MacKay) and her husband, Gustavus Adolphus Weber.

They were also interested in information on descendants of Henry Pim.

Recent research revealed the first known burial was in 1857, predating the previous belief the first burial was in 1860.

Identified living descendants of people buried there will be asked to provide a DNA sample to determine which remains could be those of their ancestors.

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