Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2009
Workers unearth bones during repair at USC
By Clif LeBlanc - McClatchy Newspapers
COLUMBIA -- USC's historic Horseshoe might hold a new and macabre piece of South Carolina's past. Workers repairing an underground steam pipe on Monday noticed human bone fragments behind the second-oldest building on campus, where a Civil War hospital once treated injured Confederate and Union soldiers.
"We don't know what it is," Richland County Coroner Gary Watts said of fragments that ranged from a skull cap to half-inch pieces. "It probably is Civil War remains, but we're still going to do this as if it were a crime scene."
Bones on USC campus might date from Civil War - Workers repairing an underground steam pipe at the University of South Carolina in Columbia found human bone fragments where a Civil War hospital once treated injured soldiers. The State reported that Richland County Coroner Gary Watts said Monday that the fragments are probably from the Civil War.
Watts says the find is being investigated initially as a crime scene. The coroner's office and the State Law Enforcement Division are excavating the steam pipe trench and examining the soil.
The coroner's office and the State Law Enforcement Division are excavating the steam-pipe trench and examining mounds of soil dug from it. Watts said he expects to know by midday today whether the remains are nearly 150 years old. The coroner's office has an on-staff anthropologist who is completing his doctoral work at USC.
University archivist Elizabeth West said she was taken aback by the find. "Until today, President [James Rion] McKissick's grave was the only known grave on campus," West said. McKissick died in 1944 while serving as school president and is interred on the grounds of South Carolinian Library on the Horseshoe.
The bone fragments were discovered behind DeSaussure College, completed in 1809, West said.
The building now houses the offices of the college of social work in the serene environs of the Horseshoe. It is named for the attorney from Sumter County who fought in the Revolutionary War. During the Civil War, the college closed as students left to fight the Union army, said West, the archivist.
The school rented many buildings to the Confederacy as a hospital to treat the wounded from both sides of the battle. Because of the proximity of the hospital, the remains could be amputated body parts, West and Watts said.
"That was a very common practice," the archivist said. "During that time, they could not save damaged limbs. It certainly would not surprise me if they buried them out back." The repair crew reported finding the bones about 11:30 a.m. in a parking lot behind DeSaussure, which is on the north side of the Horseshoe near McKissick Museum. The coroner said the fragments were in mounds of dirt taken from a trench, which had been dug more than a week ago.