The City of Charleston is learning more about dozens of centuries-old gravesites found at a downtown Charleston construction site in February.
Archaeologists have shifted some of their speculations about the 37 graves in the eleven months since their discovery under the future Gaillard Auditorium. The new theories from lead investigator Eric Poplin were contained in a letter submitted to Mayor Joe Riley and Charleston City Council.
The graves were discovered in February at the Gaillard Center. The city’s performing arts center was undergoing a $142-million renovation at the time.
According to Poplin’s letter, archaeologists have determined there actually 36 people buried on the site and one set of animal remains. Most of the bodies were of African descent, while the rest could not be determined. The bodies were divided fairly evenly between men and women. There were seven juveniles among the buried.
Originally, Poplin had speculated that the graves were dug prior to 1750, when residents began mapping the peninsula. However, the discovery of a coin minted in 1773 meant at least some of the burials must have come after that, the letter said. Two other coins were found, but were too poorly preserved to be accurately dated.
Poplin said the group appeared to be generally healthy and did not have signs of chronic disease or severe injuries that would have likely resulted in death.
“We still do not know why these people were buried at this locale nor the length of time over which these burials occurred,” Poplin writes. “We are continuing archival research and chemical analyses of bone samples that we hope will provide more detailed information.”
Sheree Bernardi contributed to this report.