Letter reveals more details in Gaillard burial site

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- A letter from the chief investigator of the gravesites found at the Gaillard Auditorium this past spring reveals more details of the remains found there.

According to Eric Poplin's letter to Charleston City Council and Mayor Joe Riley, the previous estimation that there were 37 sets of human remains found was revised to show that there were 36 sets of human remains and one set of animal remains.

Archaeologists surmised that there are 29 sets of adult remains ranging in age from 15 to 50 years old and seven sets of juvenile remains.

According to Poplin's letter, there are 16 male and 11 female remains. The gender of the remaining nine sets of remains cannot be determined, "due to their young age or the poorly preserved condition of the skeletal remains."

Additionally, 33 of the 36 are of African descent. The remaining three individuals are too poorly preserved for the researchers to make a determination on their ancestry.

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.

Poplin and his team, Drs. Suzanne Abel and Wolf Bueschgen, also found a George III copper halfpenny minted in 1773, which implies the burials happened sometime after 1773. Researchers previously thought the burials happened in various years leading up to 1750.

Two other coins were found, but were too poorly preserved to be accurately dated.

The brass found in the graves dates to between 1730 and 1820, Poplin told council members in the letter.

But one mystery still remains -- why.

"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 about the origins of the people, whether there are any familial associations, their diet, and the period of use of this area as a burying ground."

Poplin said he was hopeful the next two months' research would provide even more details about the site and the people buried there.

The remains were found in February 2013, as crews continued work on the remodeling of the Gaillard Auditorium. The work was halted for a time while archaeology crews surveyed the site, removed the graves, and began researching the site.