|11 May 2004
Clues to early Americans sought at Fort Jackson
Small teams of archaeologists are digging up dirt and sifting buckets of soil at Fort Jackson Army training base to glean information about Americaís early peoples. "The research potential here is great because it is such a large tract of land," said Deborah Keene, a University of South Carolina archaeologist overseeing digs at sites across Fort Jacksonís 52,300 acres on the eastern edge of Columbia. "We can look at populations over time ó from the earliest humans in the area right up to the historical period," she said.
Under contract with the U.S. Army, researchers from the universityís Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology are investigating some 660 sites that could be significant enough for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. The groups are working from initial surveys done in the 1980s and í90s that identified potential sites. Now, researchers use global positioning devices to determine the location and size of each site to help them gather information about the landís early inhabitants.
At one site miles away from the fort, a half-dozen young diggers carefully lift shovels full of soil. Elizabeth May, smiles as she holds up her find of the day: a rough, pockmarked shard of reddish pottery. "Itís a check-stamp made by a carved wooden paddle pressed into wet clay then fired," said Keene, explaining the lined decoration on the tiny fragment. Mayís discovery probably dated from inhabitants of the Woodland Period, which ranges from 2000 BCE to 1000 CE, Keene said.
"These people would have been living there, as it was on high ground and within easy walking distance to water," she said. Several creeks run through the present-day military installation. "They may or may not have been living there full time. ... Maize agriculture really wasnít in full swing yet, so they were generally hunter-gatherers supplementing their diet with some domesticated plants," Keene explained.
Anything found on federal land belongs to the government. To discourage potential illegal collecting, the archaeologists prefer not to make public the exact location of their work or the extent of their finds. Mark Dutton, the Armyís natural resource specialist at Fort Jackson, said researchers have found artifacts that could date back 10,000 years. "We confer constantly with Native American tribes to make sure we donít have something that they consider to be of a religious or ceremonial nature," he said. While no such discoveries have been made here, researchers at Fort Stewart have found burial mounds.
Sources: Associated Press, WIStv (8 May 2004), The State.com (10 May 2004)
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