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For better or worse

Charlotte King banner

For better or worse

We can easily speculate as to whether colonial settlers were better off here than had they stayed at home, but a University of Otago researcher is seeking to replace speculation with science.

Postdoctoral research fellow Dr Charlotte King (Department of Anatomy) is analysing samples from the remains of 27 people recently exhumed from unmarked graves at the historic St John’s burial ground near Milton as part of a project to identify who they were, before they are re-interred.

She hopes to extend the research to unmarked graves in the Lawrence Cemetery, in a proposed project also led by Professor Hallie Buckley and Dr Peter Petchey.

“I will be reconstructing the lives of these early European settlers using the chemistry of their bones, teeth and hair,” King explains.

Noting that this is the first time such research has been undertaken in New Zealand, King says that, using state-of-the-art techniques, she will track changes in diet, health and stress levels through the settlers’ lives, and compare them with results from similar research projects in Britain and Ireland.

“I will be looking at these everyday people, who the history books often forget, and seeing whether their lives matched the colonial propaganda of the time about achieving a better life in New Zealand.”

King will run a blog to keep descendants and other interested people up to date and hopes to produce a book at the end of the three-year project, which is supported by a Marsden Fund Fast-Start grant.