Researchers to look into mystery graves

Peter Petchey
Peter Petchey
The Lawrence-Tuapeka Community Board  supports a proposal by a group of researchers who want to  forensically investigate  about 30  unmarked graves  in the Lawrence Cemetery.

The work will start early next year.

Board members were told about the proposal by  Otago University archaeologist Dr Peter Petchey and bio-archaeologist Prof Hallie Buckley,  at  their meeting in Lawrence on Wednesday.

The cemetery will be surveyed and they will then excavate the area of unmarked graves within the cemetery’s boundaries and  check for graves outside the fenced area.

The pair also intend to exhumee   several  bodies and analyse the remains using forensic techniques. Dr Petchey said they wanted to establish the boundaries of the unmarked graves and possibly identify the people in some of those graves, many of whom were likely to be Chinese.

Hallie Buckley
Hallie Buckley
"We will maybe excavate 20 or 30 people and look at them from an archaeological  perspective," Dr Petchey said.

"We can find out about their health, wellbeing, and the lives of some of the early Chinese settlers."

He said a similar project in Milton’s cemetery identified 16 unmarked graves in a neighbouring paddock.

Prof  Buckley said they would also be looking at age at death, diet, sex and ancestry, diseases and possibly how they died.

"The bodies would be reinterred," she said.

She said they had about 30 people attend the initial consultation meeting in Lawrence last month and since then they had heard of one person who did not want the investigation to go ahead as they did not want the graves disturbed.


There is always some kind of service at reinterrments. So it should be for this rather comprehensive work.