The historic Drybread Cemetery. Photo credit – Peter Petchey.
The historic Drybread Cemetery will be the focus of the latest University of Otago and Southern Cemeteries Archaeology research project, planned to begin on 16 November 2020. On-site work is expected to take around 4 weeks, with subsequent bioarchaeological laboratory research expected to take a further twelve months.
With a number of unmarked graves and inconclusive records at the cemetery, the Drybread Cemetery Trust approached 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 are 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 1862/1863, and faded away approximately 30 years later as the diggers moved on. The earliest recorded burial at Drybread Cemetery was in 1870, but informal burials also took place in the early 1860’s.
“This is an exciting opportunity to study both the people and the place from this pivotal time in New Zealand history. The 1860s saw the Gold Rush in the south and the New Zealand Wars in the north. It was a period that shaped many aspects – both good and bad – of the country in which we live today,” Director of Southern Archaeology Ltd, Dr Peter Petchey says.
Otago’s bioarchaeology experts have conducted similar research at cemeteries in Milton, Lawrence, and Cromwell. This project involves locating unmarked graves, exhumation and relocation of some graves, and surveying and archaeological analysis of the site.
No marked graves will be excavated in any way.
Specific aims of the Drybread project include; a search for the Drybread settlement site, to work alongside Chinese and Drybread communities to identify areas inside and outside the present Cemetery boundaries that contain unmarked and unknown graves, and excavation to determine the true boundary of the cemetery.
A sample of remains will be analysed to determine aspects of the deceased’s past such as ethnicity, age, and sex. A picture of their life history can be created through evidence of diet, disease or physical trauma.
Professor Hallie Buckley.
Project co-leader, Professor Hallie Buckley of Otago’s Department of Anatomy, says it has been a privilege to work alongside the communities associated with Drybread Cemetery.
“The invitation to assist the Drybread Cemetery Trust comes with significant responsibility. We’re tasked with learning more about the cemetery and who came to be buried in it during the Gold Rush days. We can learn a lot about early-settler life in New Zealand, and answer key questions to help the Trust maintain the cemetery site with confidence into the future,” Professor Buckley says.
The Drybread Cemetery Trust is eager for the project to answer long-standing questions over the cemetery and those buried within its uncertain border.
“We have undertaken several projects over the years to try and resolve these issues with limited success. With the University’s help we can finally establish occupancy or vacancy over our unknown burial plots in a professional and sensitive manor. This will benefit both the ongoing management of the cemetery plus descendants of lost individuals the project might find,” Trust spokesperson Karen Glassford says.