Four seasons in one day! Report from the field at Drybread

We’ve been rather busy excavating at Drybread Cemetery over the last month. There’s been lots to do and over the next little while we’ll be reporting on our findings as we start to analyse them. But while we’re readjusting to life back at home we thought you might like a little insight into life on the dig…

The team in week two still looking pretty happy to be on site (except Jeremy (back left) who clearly did not get the memo). Kia ora to the Marsden fund for funding the excavation too!

“You’ll be here for the weather” said one of the local farmers as I fought the gale force northwesterly up the hill to the site. “Oh yes,” I replied merrily “The famously sunny central Otago summer….”

The dig at Drybread was one of extremes. We had wind that drove us off site, sun that blistered that line between your pants and your shirt that you expose as you dig, rain that flooded our excavation holes, and (on the last day) snow that coated the whole area with an icing sugar-like layer of white powder.

Through sun and snow….. (Photos: P. Petchey)
Left: Aew, Brad, Jessie, Jeremy and local landowner Karen at the top of the drybread diggings.
Right: A few days later! Jessie, Aew, Jeremy and Peter after the final tidy up.

Despite all this weather we still managed to check the entirety of Drybread cemetery for evidence of burials. We have identified where people are buried and where there don’t appear to be burials. Some of the unmarked graves found in our investigations had names, or family names associated with them in the Cemetery Trust’s records. Previously no-one had known whether anyone was actually buried in the plots, but now that we’ve found their grave cuts we know that they’re there and the cemetery records can be updated. For these people we only looked for evidence of their grave cuts on the surface of the soil, they were not excavated as a part of our work, because the records give us information on who they were.

Other unmarked graves were found in plots believed to be empty. There were twelve of these unmarked graves, but only nine of them had preserved skeletal remains. Six of these burials were found in an area rumoured to be the Chinese section of the cemetery, and several of them had good archaeological evidence for them being Chinese. Two had preserved coffin plates and readable names, as well as preserved long traditional plaits (queues). We’ll be studying all of these unknown, unmarked people over the next months, in order to mark their graves with information about them when they are reinterred.

While the bioarchaeologists (skeleton specialists) were working at the cemetery, Peter and a team of archaeologists managed to look at the surrounding landscape for signs of colonial settlement. The mining settlement of Drybread was moved several times in the late 1800s before disappearing altogether as the gold dried up. Peter aimed to work out the position of the original settlement and see if he could find archaeological evidence of the people who lived there. He’ll write more about this in later posts, but in short using some deductive reasoning Sherlock Holmes would be proud of, we think we’ve found the location of the settlement. In the last few minutes of digging his team even found some artefacts associated with it – so looks like Peter might be headed back in the future to check it out more thoroughly!

We’ll be keeping the blog up to date with our findings so stay tuned for more information on the people of nineteenth century Drybread. But for now we’ll sign off with some of the misadventures from the dig ….

Number of sandfly bites: Oh. So. Many.

Number of times the portaloos blew over: 2 (both times our intrepid team risked being covered in perfumed blue portaloo liquid to right them).

Number of times everyone had to stay very still to let a bee swarm go through the cemetery: 1

Number of people convinced that the hares on site were carnivorous: 1

Number of nettle stings from moving portaloos: too many to count.

Number of times people claimed they had concussions from being airbourne in the land rover: 1

Number of people forced off site by serious hayfever: 2

Number of times the project drone was blown into powerlines and slightly electrocuted: 1

Number of times the Land Rover got stuck in a bog: 1 (but they were stuck for quite a while!)

Peter surveys the paddocks surrounding the old settlement of Drybread next to Land Rover that is well and truly stuck in a bog (Photo: Jessie Garland).

Charlotte King, 14th December 2020

We also garnered some media attention, see the links below

Peter examines his representation in The News during our end-of-dig drinks (Photo: Jessie Garland)–QKE8R3aztHATQHz-Uoz5E8mDPiwhTR_8NhDCVT3DVdQy91qtLKzM

One thought on “Four seasons in one day! Report from the field at Drybread

  1. Great reading. The team is on a roll with plenty of experience. Looking forward to seeing more results as they come to hand.

    Fancy the weather being so unkind.



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