Dig into Otago’s past con­tin­ues


The dis­cov­ery of the re­mains of three peo­ple be­lieved to be Chi­nese at Lawrence is likely to re­sult in the re­turn of a Univer­sity of Otago ar­chae­ol­ogy team in the sum­mer.

Last week was the third and fi­nal week of the Otago His­toric Ceme­ter­ies Bioar­chae­ol­ogy Project, where the team worked in the Chi­nese sec­tion of the Gabriel St ceme­tery.

They ex­humed three graves and un­cov­ered an ‘‘amaz­ingly rich’’ find of skele­tal re­mains and grave goods, Univer­sity of Otago Depart­ment of Anatomy bioar­chae­ol­o­gist Pro­fes­sor Hal­lie Buck­ley said.

Th­ese in­cluded well-pre­served cloth­ing, and some in­trigu­ing burial prac­tices, project codi­rec­tor Dr Peter Petchey of South­ern Ar­chae­ol­ogy said. For in­stance, in one grave they found that the per­son’s an­kles had been crossed, and their boots were placed ei­ther side of the feet.

‘‘A burial from Cromwell ex­ca­vated in the 1980s is the only other ex­am­ple of footwear be­ing found in situ but this per­son was still wear­ing his boots. The style and man­u­fac­ture of the boots can help with dat­ing the burial.’’

Buck­ley said an­ces­try would need to be con­firmed by lab anal­y­sis but den­tal mor­phol­ogy ob­served during the lift­ing of the skele­tons at Gabriel St sug­gested Asian an­ces­try.

The find­ings had given glimpses into the past and the era th­ese peo­ple lived and died in, Petchey said.

‘‘The dead don’t bury them­selves. The way they are buried tells us about the liv­ing peo­ple who buried them as well as the dead.’’

The dis­cov­er­ies fas­ci­nated the team, who vowed to re­turn in the sum­mer sea­son to un­cover the graves of more Chi­nese and ‘‘pau­pers’’ or marginalised peo­ple at this par­tic­u­lar ceme­tery.

Gabriel St is the lo­ca­tion of Lawrence’s ‘‘new’’ ceme­tery, which was opened af­ter the ‘‘old’’ Ar­drossan St ceme­tery closed in 1867, where the team found eight graves in the first week of the dig. Fur­ther ex­ca­va­tion was re­quired at this site to check for any more graves, Buck­ley said.

‘‘This ceme­tery is on pri­vate land and it is es­sen­tial that all graves are found.’’

Burial at Gabriel St fits in with the time pe­riod of the Chi­nese min­ers’ ar­rival to Otago, in the late 1860s, and is a sim­i­lar era to the St John’s Burial Ground at Mil­ton that the team worked on two years ago.

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