Pockoy Island Dig

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In 2016
Hurricane Matthew hit South Carolina reshaping
its coastline. In the process of re-mapping
using satellite imagery called Lidar two
shell rings were discovered on Pockoy
Island located in the Botany Bay Heritage Preserve. Archaeologists chose to
focus on the ring closest to the beach first. Due to
sea level change and rising oceans you know
we’re losing this site at a pretty fast
rate. We’re losing nine, nine and a half meters of
this site every single year at best case scenario. If current rates hold and we do not get hit by
another major hurricane, we will lose the site by
the year 2024. We’re doing what
most people would call salvage archaeology,
trying to get as much as we can before it’s gone. Excavation began in 2017 and
has continued for four seasons. In the summer of 2019 the site
welcomed nearly 1400 visitors
and over 400 volunteers who could
participate in tours or help sift for artifacts. Individuals all over South Carolina came to
visit us and help us screen. Participate in the
cleaning of artifacts and cataloging of stuff, we
take volunteers and visitors of any age and
experience level and teach them about
archaeology and South Carolina history and
heritage. So just the other day, we had a
toddler up at the screen on a stool sifting for
artifacts and we were teaching her how to ID things
Visitors could also watch live demonstrations of
shell tools. Archaeologists were also aided by
Mississippi State University students were
asked to dig shovel test pits every twenty meters. They’re surveying the entire island for us. So we’ll
know where other locales are on this island that
are producing either period artifacts from the
late archaic shell ring people or later or
maybe even before. Colleagues from the
National Park Service out of Tallahassee, Florida
also assisted with metal probing of the rings,
confirming the LIDAR imagery was true. Dating the rings is contemporary with the
first great pyramids of Egypt and Stonehenge. That’s approximately 4300 years ago. There are about 25
known shell rings in South Carolina and 60
on the east coast. Typical shell rings or
middens tend to be horizontal. But during the
late archaic period for some puzzling reason
there are these donut shaped rings the diameter of the
rings of Pockoy island measure about sixty to
seventy meters across with the centers being
between twenty and thirty meters. Mounds of shell
make up the outside with the center of the rings
almost void of shell. We refer to these as shell
free interiors as plazas which implies some sort
of maintenance of the area. You keep it clean but in fact this was not an area
that’s kept clean. This is an area that shows that
the a lot of activity took place. We’ve got pits
and posts and shell piles and things
like that. The archaeologists determined
the first six to eight inches of soil was
overburdened from the ocean. So what we decided
to do in order to make this project though
quicker and get down below the plaza where we
can find features is to bring some heavy
equipment and take that material off. Another use
has been to remove dirt piles out from under the
screens. We’re very careful with how we excavate with
those machines and we’re slowly trying in
all of our staff the use them. Some artifacts come out
of the midden while others wash up on the
beach that had been washed out of the site. Items believed to be tools made from Whelk
shells are one example of this. So what it looks like their doing is using
large whelks in a similar way you would return
a rock into an axe. They’re breaking it by striking
it with probably another whelk, knocking
a hole in it so that they could put a stick into. The archaeologists suspect they were
sharpened by using small pebbles for possibly a
juniper log with some wet sand,
then used to chop down trees and hollow out dug
out canoes. Some of the shells had two holes
suggesting there were used as both an adz and
an axe. Another significant find
has been the large amount of Tom’s creek pottery
which is the earliest known form of pottery in
North America. These were applied with the
Marsh Perrywinkle. Some students may even choose
to do their master’s and dissertation work on
these objects. Jones also believes the
pottery was used as hones or wets for sharpening
bone tools used to stitch leather together. The archaeologists also found an exciting item
made of deer bone in about the size of a
pencil. It was decorated with concentric circles
nested diamonds and cross hatching. You know these
are my examples currently of being grave bone pins. The carvings tend to be located in the rear
half of the pins and the archeologists have noted
the special skill needed to achieve them. Finding
them difficult to replicate themselves. They appear to
be ornate enough where they were some sort
of a special item or maybe a status item of some sort. Whether they were eating utensils hair pens,
garment closures, net making devices, we aren’t
really sure. The pointy end is sharpened
often times and highly polished and my
speculation is that they’re used in the in
the making of basketry. Figuring it out seems
like half the fun. Something like this came
off the beach the other day. Finally a shelled
pendant was found, probably made from the
interior spiral of a whelk and some shell beads most
likely made from the small shiny muscles that
live in the marshes. A hole may have been
drilled in the pendant and secured with a
shelby. I’ve got a fancy version
of my stone drill here. It’s called a combo. We
don’t know that Native Americans used these
but we do know that they used a small stone drill. Colunela in the area also has a lot of mother
of pearl inside and a glitter like exterior. Jones thinks that beads would be for more than
just a dormant, but also used as currency like the
Native Americans wampum with purple or shiny beads
being worth more than white. The artifacts are first processed by sorting them into
paper bags in the field before being sent
to the lab. There they are washed toothbrushes
dried, labeled and placed in archival
quality plastic bags. Artifacts are also
entered into a database sorted counted, weighed and
studied by different specialists. We’ll photograph a lot of particularly the pottery
and the bone pens. We’ll have a final specialists. This is a person who studies animal bones. The
specialist return information on the diet
the people were eating here. For example,
shellfish, turtle, dear and hickory nuts. We’re not out here
for the artifacts per se. We’re out here to
recover artifacts and then learn from those
artifacts. What are people doing with them. And therefore
what were their lives like. The archaeologist still
have many unanswered questions. And perhaps their biggest question, how did they
deal with sea level change? This year we’re
having those problem to solve today so that we
don’t lose our way of life. The information they
collect may help answer these lingering questions
and help solve these 156
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