Unnamed occupants of the Lawrence Cemetery may be recognised with a collective memorial, if an embryonic proposal gains traction.

During a reinterment ceremony in April, Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan said he was moved to discover the extent of unmarked and unnamed graves in the Chinese and pauper sections of the cemetery, some of which dates back prior to the area’s 1860s gold rush.

‘‘I was wondering why there was a big stretch of open grass between the European and Chinese sections of the cemetery.

‘‘According to researchers there are actually dozens of graves in this open section, but many were swept away into the gully inadvertently during the 1980s, after the area fell into disuse and became overgrown.’’

Mr Cadogan said he believed officials of the day had cleared the area ‘‘wholesale’’ with a bulldozer.

As a result, researchers led by Southern Archaeology director Dr Peter Petchey had been able to identify gravestone fragments in the spoil at the bottom of the gully.

‘‘This is not about blaming anyone, but about honouring those still buried in this section of the cemetery with some sort of permanent, collective monument.

‘‘That could be some sort of mosaic or other structure including the fragments, or some other commemoration according to community wishes.’’

Dr Petchey said the discovery had been made during work at Lawrence Cemetery forming part of the Southern Cemeteries Archaeological Project.

The project involved exhuming unmarked early settler graves to build a detailed picture of what life was like at the time of the gold rush in the early 1860s.

Those remains were reinterred in April, but Dr Petchey welcomed further efforts to establish a memorial.

‘‘You can see there’s a fair amount of material at the bottom of the gully, including gravestone fragments.

‘‘We’ve opened the conversation with local and other cemetery stakeholders to see what might be done.’’

He said any project would require appropriate permissions and a formal approach to unearthing and identifying materials.

Lawrence-Tuapeka Community Board chairman Geoff Davidson said Dr Petchey and the mayor had approached the board for its input.

‘‘The cemetery was quite a mess in the 1980s, and that was a different time.

‘‘As a board, we’d certainly like to see it tidied up and those buried there to be properly memorialised.’’