Up to 30 previously unknown burial sites have been identified at a historical cemetery in an Aboriginal community near Grafton.
The newly discovered sites are located in and around Baryulgil Cemetery, including an area with traditional, pre-European burials.
Ground penetrating radar (GPR) and drone photography revealed the previously unknown sites.
Baryulgil Local Aboriginal Land Council CEO Ross James told NITV News locating the sites was “incredibly important” to the Baryulgil community.
“We’re now able to protect the resting places of our old people,” he said.
The discoveries may suggest the cemetery may have once been a traditional burial site, Mr James said.
“Up until now we would have said, no, it (the graves) was all recent, but it may not be now.”
Prior to the discovery, the cemetery was only thought to have contained 45 sites marked with formal concrete lawn markers, headstones and wooden crosses, as well as informal markers including star pickets and river cobblestones.
The new sites also reveal the transformation of burial practices of from seated or wrapped traditional burials to the introduction of European-influenced wooden caskets.
Funded by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) Heritage Near Me grant program, the project combined technology and oral history.
More locations surrounding the cemetery which are known to community Elders will be examined using the same technology in future rounds of testing.
Archaeologist Dr Mary-Jean Sutton, who worked on the project, said the number of new burial sites is conservative as it’s possible there are more burials that have deteriorated and are unable to be identified with GPR.
“The GPR imaging shows many reflections across the site possibly due to ground disturbance,” Dr Sutton said.
“We are unable to accurately determine the number of burials as it is possible these sites reflect traditional burial practices or more likely non casket or wrapped burials in blankets.”
The Baryulgil Cemetery has now been formally recognised as an Aboriginal place and is protected under the National Parks and Wildlife Act.