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"Pauper's field:" Digging deeper into history of bones unearthed in Charleston

Work has stopped on a drainage project off Fishburne Street in Charleston after human bones were found. An archaeologist is offering insight into the history of the area where the bones were found.

Work has stopped on an important city improvement project on Fishburne Street in Charleston, after old bones were discovered there recently.

Experts on underground artifacts are offering new insight into the site where the bones were found, and what property was used for more than a century ago.

The bones were found beneath Burke High School’s Harmon Field. Dr. Eric Poplin, an archaeologist with Charleston-based Brockington Cultural Resource Consultants, says Harmon Field sits atop an important chapter in Charleston's past.

"This was part of a pauper's field the city operated, a cemetery where they buried poor people,” said Poplin. “(It was for) people who didn't belong to a church or have a space in one of the private cemeteries."

Workers digging as part a city drainage improvement project found human remains four feet under the gravel and dirt at Harmon Field.

Experts think there could be up to 15 graves at the site. Work has stopped until the land can be excavated.

"It's being respectful of those people who were buried 100, 150 years ago or so,” Poplin said. "Even though the cemetery has been abandoned and the land use changed, there are people still buried here. To disturb them without due process is desecration of the graves and would be a violation of state law."

City officials say extra time and money are planned for projects in case of unexpected discoveries like this.

"We understand that the historic fabric of this city is definitely important to everybody who's here, everybody who visits,” said Steve Kirk, engineering project manager for the city of Charleston.

It could take up to two weeks to carefully remove the bodies from this property. Dr. Poplin says it’s possible they could be re-buried there, but away from the construction.

For now, modern equipment is parked until old Charlestonians can be moved, but history shows it’s not unusual to find forgotten graves in this area.

Workers uncovered hundreds of centuries-old bones in 2004 while renovating The Citadel’s Johnson-Hagood Stadium.

Then in 2013, workers renovating the Gaillard Center uncovered dozens of grave sites. Experts later said the bones may date back to the days of Charleston’s earliest Colonial Era settlement.

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