MOUNT PLEASANT — Someone used a metal detector to dig 19 holes in search of artifacts at the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site, which once was the plantation home of the 37th governor of South Carolina and a signer of the U.S. Constitution, officials said.
Rangers at the historic site found the holes one by one on Nov. 13, according to the National Park Service.
The holes were probably dug within a couple days of being found, said Tim Sveum, the park’s law enforcement chief. Investigators found artifacts remaining in eight holes. But the 11 other pits were empty, leading officials to suspect items may have been taken from them.
“In the area where these artifacts were taken, we had not done an archeological survey,” he said. “Because of that, we'll never know what was lost.”
Objects are stolen numerous times each year from the park and other sites in the area, such as Fort Moultrie and Fort Sumter, Sveum said. But stealing items worth more than $500 is a felony through the U.S. Archaeological Resource and Protection Act.
If found guilty, a person could face two years in prison, according to the law.
The digging also caused damage to resources at the park, Kate Funk, the park’s chief of resource management, said in a Nov. 19 statement.
"Archeologists make a great effort to record the context from which artifacts are recovered to better understand their use and disposition and the wider historical picture,” Funk said. “All this important information is now lost because of this illegal excavation.”
The Charles Pinckney house once sat on the Snee Farm Plantation, which produced rice and indigo, according to the park's website. An estimated 250 enslaved men, women and children were forced to do the day-to-day chores there more than two centuries ago.
About 40,000 people visit the site every year.
Rangers are asking people who have any information regarding the holes to call the park’s tip line at 888-653-0009.