Death and Dark Deeds on the Goldfields: The Tragedies of an Unknown Miner.


  • Peter Petchey Southern Archaeology Ltd.
  • Hallie Buckley Department of Anatomy, University of Otago
  • Neville Ritchie Independent Researcher, Hamilton
  • Charlotte King Department of Anatomy, University of Otago


In 1983 the grave of an unknown man was excavated in the Cromwell Gorge, Otago, New Zealand, as part of the archaeological programme of the Clutha Valley Development Project. This project culminated in the construction of the Clyde Dam, a large hydro-electric dam across the Clutha River. At the time of the excavation it was noted that the grave had been disturbed, and the skeleton was sent to the Anatomy Department at the University of Otago for study. A short report was produced, identifying the individual as a tall European male. Because no next of kin could be determined, the skeletal remains stayed in the Anatomy Department.


Advances in bioarchaeological and archaeological methodology mean that a more detailed and nuanced study of this individual is now possible, and this research is presented in this paper and its companion (Buckley et al. this issue). In this paper, the life, death and burial, along with the circumstances and details of the grave disturbance are discussed. The material culture and manner of burial are typical of the nineteenth century goldfields frontier context, while the disturbance of the grave leads to the conclusion that this was a deliberate act of grave robbing, possibly to search the dead man’s pockets for gold. There are no known records of such crime on the goldfields, but the archaeological evidence is unequivocal, shedding light on a previously unsuspected darker side of goldfields life.



How to Cite

Petchey, P., Buckley, H., Ritchie, N. and King, C. (2022) “Death and Dark Deeds on the Goldfields: The Tragedies of an Unknown Miner”., Journal of Pacific Archaeology, 12(1), pp. 79–91. Available at: (Accessed: 13 April 2024).




Most read articles by the same author(s)