Up to 30 important Aboriginal burial sites that shed light on how practices changed after European colonisation, have been found in and around the Baryulgil Cemetery in northern New South Wales.

The sites were discovered by the Baryulgil Local Aboriginal Land Council (BLALC) working with heritage consultants Virtus Heritage.

They were detected using ground penetrating radar which does not disturb the earth.

To be able to determine the location of burial sites, after grave markers have long been moved or destroyed, is incredibly important to our community as we identify and protect the resting places of our old people,” BLALC chairman Scott Monaghan said.

The new sites include an area with traditional, pre-European burial practices. After European settlement, the burials changed from seated or wrapped burials, to wooden caskets.

University of Queensland student researcher Dr Sally Babidge collected oral history from local elders for the project, near Grafton.

BLALC chief executive officer Ross James said state-of-the-art technology and oral history was combined to show the strong social, spiritual, historical and cultural value of the site without invasive testing or disturbing the land.

Virtus Heritage archaeologist Dr Mary-Jean Sutton said the number of new burial sites was conservative and it was possible there were more burials that have deteriorated and hadn’t been able to be identified using the radar.

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.

There are at least 75 burial sites now identified within Baryulgil Cemetery including those identified from drone imagery and 45 grave sites from existing headstones.

Some of the graves are marked with formal concrete lawn markers, headstones and simpler wooden crosses, as well as informal markers including star pickets and river cobbles.

By Wendy Caccetta