Ground radar technology has found 12 possible unmarked graves in an Eketahuna paddock, and has the potential to uncover dozens more.
Eketahuna Museum has identified as many as 33 possible graves in the Early Settler’s Cemetery on Alfredton Rd. However, Eketahuna residents say there could be twice that many.
Eketahuna Museum committee member Bruce Laurence said they used a ground penetrating radar to detect the 12 graves in a relatively small area.
“The council acquired a machine about six months ago that was used to look at pipes and cables underground, and we realised it’s quite capable of our cemetery search.
“Alex Beijen in a past life had a business with radars so he came and had a look at the machine, and changed the calibrations from looking at steel to looking through ground and earth.
“The grass needs to be mowed to get it down before we do a full search – there was so much grass that it was getting caught up in the machine.”
The graves in the paddock belonged to early settlers of the town and initially operated from 1892-1896.
Laurence said that once the survey was completed, the plan was to create some sort of memorial.
“What we want to do is mark every grave we can and create a list of people definitely buried there, and a list of people probably buried there.
“What the council want is as soon as they get a plan showing the locations, they can plan a memorial park.
“It’s one of the things we’d like to do, but it will take time. We’ll have to see how extensive the graveyard size is.”
The cemetery has a troubled history. In 1896, it was shut down after a deadly diphtheria outbreak was traced back to the town’s water supply in a creek that ran through the area.
In 1908, a bushfire spread through the town, beginning near the railway station and burning South East, wiping out all the wooden headstones and fences.
Around 1969-1973, the gravestones were bulldozed by the council and taken away on the back of a truck when the road was realigned.
Former South Wairarapa mayor Alex Beijen said the initial search was a successful proof of concept.
“I had a company with radars and I did investigate undiscovered graves in Nelson, so I knew what I was doing. We had really clear indications at about 1.6m in depth.”
Beijen said he had volunteered to return in January for an extensive survey.