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.