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Pieces of Charleston's history ending up on eBay

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CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) -

The City of Charleston sits atop layers and layers of history and artifacts that often surface during construction.

But in a city known for preserving its history, many times these pieces of our past wind up in the hands of people interested in selling them to the highest bidder, and it happens more often than you think.

Buist Academy sits at the corner of Calhoun and Anson streets in downtown Charleston.

Remnants of history once lay buried in the area which could have helped paint a picture of days gone by. But some hidden artifacts, slave tags, at Buist were discovered by a relic hunter and sold, according to an investigation by the State Law Enforcement Division.

Slave tags, or slave badges, in the Charleston Museum are unique to the city. The tags were once worn by slaves.

"Each one should have an occupation as to what the person did," said Dr. Eric Poplin."Who carried it, and it had a number registered with the city as to who that person was and who they were owned by."

Poplin, a professional archaeologist, has found four slave tags in more than 20 years of work. Compare that to the 15 slave tags that came from public property, according to SLED documents.  

"I think that would have been a major contribution to the history of the city," Poplin said.

Could so many slave badges really come from one location?

"Those slave tags may have been a relic of that use of this property," Dr. Nic Butler said."Those are people who worked in and around the market and this was their parking lot and staging ground."

That could explain the variety of occupations displayed on the badges from mechanic, servant, even a slave who sold fruit. That fruiterer badge was valued at $10,000 on eBay.

According to the investigation, the earth removed for the Buist Academy Foundation work was hauled to private property where the relic hunter used a metal detector. He refused to talk to us on camera, but according to the SLED report, he sold 14 of the slave tags on eBay.

SLED agents conclude the relic hunter did not break the law. Still, some people feel they had history pulled out from under them.

"To actually see and feel and touch those...to have them kept here would have been wonderful," says Buist Academy parent Sydney Butler."It's a real loss."

The Historic Charleston Foundation believes an archaeological ordinance in the City of Charleston would help safeguard sites.

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