Sea Pines Shell Ring Archaeology Dig

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Courtesy of George Stubbs, Hilton Head Chapter, Archaeological Society of South Carolina:

Information Release

Sea Pines Archaeological Research Team (SPART)

April 29, 2016

Hilton Head Island has a deep history – including the presence of Native Americans dating back at least 4,000 years. Roughly the same age as the Egyptian pyramids and Stonehenge, Native Americans living on Hilton Head Island almost 4,000 years ago constructed the Sea Pines Shell Ring. Located within the Forest Preserve, the Sea Pines Shell Ring is a circular deposit of shellfish (mostly oysters and clams), measuring almost 200 feet across with a broad shell-free “plaza” in its center.

Including the Sea Pines Shell Ring, archaeologists have recorded almost 50 similar shell rings across the Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida coasts, yet they struggle to understand the purpose of these ancient constructions. Were they circular villages? Were they ceremonial meeting grounds? Or perhaps something else entirely?

In order to address these, and other questions, archaeologists from Binghamton University (New York State) will visit the Sea Pines Shell Ring and conduct research from May 24th to July 1st. Research will include mapping, excavations, and using cutting edge technologies, such as Ground Penetrating Radar, to investigate the history of this ancient site. Consultations with Native Americans, including representatives from the Catawba Nation, will also be conducted in an effort to understand the meaning of the shell ring.

Research will be done by trained professionals, but there are opportunities for the public to take part. The site will be staffed and the public are welcome to drop by Monday through Friday, 9am to 2pm to see how the project is progressing. There will also be “Public days” on June 16th and July 1st, during which the dig will provide tours, activities for kids, and chances to see artifacts recovered from the ring. The public can also volunteer to be docents, field crew, or photographers. Archaeologists will also be giving public talks during community meetings and at the Coastal Discovery Museum (dates TBA).

The hope is that this project will be carried out every summer for the next several years and will result in a better understanding of the deep history of Hilton Head Island. Reports will be made available to the public and there are preliminary plans to have an exhibit at the Coastal Discovery Museum once excavations have ceased. Input from the public is welcome.

Contact info – Dr. Matthew C. Sanger, msanger@binghamton.edu

For information about the shell ring and the Forest Preserve, please visit – http://www.exploreseapines.com/forest-preserve.asp

For information about the Coastal Discovery Museum, please visit – http://www.coastaldiscovery.org/

Details for Public Involvement

Docents: 1-2 volunteers will be needed every day (Monday-Friday) to act as docents and to help interact with the public. Hours are flexible, but generally 9am-2pm. Docents will be needed May 25th – July 1st. Docents do not need to be available for the entire 6 weeks, but we hope that they will be

available for at least 2 of the weeks. Docents do not need to come in everyday, but we hope they will come in at least 2 days/week.

Docents will be the public face of the project as they will be on site to answer questions from visitors. Docents will be trained by the archaeological staff and will be some of the first people to learn about finds from the site and how those finds might change our understandings of the shell ring. Anyone can be a docent, but preference will be given to current volunteers at the Coastal Discovery Museum.

Trainings for docents will be offered on May 25th, May 31st, and June 8th at 10am at the Shell Ring. Training will take roughly half an hour.

Volunteer Field Crew: We are able to support 3-5 volunteer field crew members. Volunteer field crew will be needed May 30th – July 1st. Volunteer field crew do not need to be available for the entire 5 weeks, but we hope that they will be available for at least 2 of the weeks. Volunteer field crew do not need to come in everyday, but we hope they will come in at least 3 days/week.

Volunteers will be expected to work 9am-2pm.

Field crew will assist in all stages of field research including: excavations, screening, mapping, and remote sensing. Tasks will be assigned based on the experience of the volunteer and their physical abilities. There are low-impact tasks for volunteers who are not interested/able to excavate as well as more physically demanding jobs for those who are. Anyone can be a docent, but preference will be given to current members of the Archaeological Society of South Carolina.

Training will be offered in the field on a one-on-one basis.

Photographers: We would appreciate the help of professional/amateur photographers in assisting our efforts to document the dig. Photographers will be needed May 25th – July 1st. Photographers do not need to be available for the entire 6 weeks, but we hope that they will be available for at least 2 of the weeks. Photographers do not need to come in everyday, but we hope they will come in at least 2 days/week.

Training will be offered in the field on a one-on-one basis.

Public Days: The public is always welcome to visit the site – but we have set aside two days, June 16th and July 1st, during which we will have tours, opportunities to see archaeology up close, demonstrations, and activities for kids. A more detailed description of the activities will be made available in the near future.

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