CHARLESTON — The remains of four children, British coins, buttons and indications of a coffin have been found as work wraps up on exhuming remains from 37 graves at a construction site for a new Charleston performing arts center, an archaeologist said Friday.
Eric Poplin, vice president of Brockington and Associates, said the work exhuming remains from what's thought to be an 18th century graveyard should be completed Saturday. Crews building the $142 million Gaillard Center found the graveyard last month.
Poplin said that, as of late Friday, one gravesite remained to be opened while remains were being removed from six others. He said remains exhumed so far include an infant, a child 2 or younger, a child younger than 6 and a child thought to be between 6 and 12.
The graveyard is thought to date to the early 1700s and is in an area that would have been outside Charleston at the time. It does not appear on any plat of the city and it's possible it could be a graveyard for workmen or slaves for which records were not kept.
“We found coins with two individuals and they are probably British pennies or ha'pennies,” he added. “Right now they are too corroded to get any information from them about when they may have been minted. But they are typical British coins from the late 1600s to the mid-1700s.”
One of the coins was found on the eye socket of one of the deceased.
Poplin said putting coins on a dead person's eyes dates to Greek mythology that said that was. It held coins were put on the eyes of the deceased to pay the ferryman Charon to ferry the dead across the river Styx to the underworld. They were also used, Poplin said, to weigh down the eyes so they would not open after death.
One grave had numerous nails and wood remnants from a coffin. The other people are thought to have been buried in shrouds without coffins. Buttons from a coat from the remains of what is thought to be a boy have also been found.
Poplin said it will take several months to analyze the remains, which will be reburied.
Dustin Clemens, the Gaillard project manager for the city, said construction in the area where the graveyard was found will resume Monday.
He didn't think there will be any more surprises on the site because most of the area has been disturbed by construction. But he said work will be stopped again if anything else is found.
“We didn't think we would find this,” he said.