19 March 2005
Ancient settlement unearthed in South Carolina
Trudging through thick gray mud at this northern Greenville County farm (South Carolina, USA), it doesn't take long to find fragments of ancient history sticking out of the soil, be it a smooth piece of Indian pottery or the jagged-edged stone of an arrowhead. This place has long been a resting ground for American Indian artifacts. "In a sense, it's a concentration of history," said Frances Knight, an archaeologist from Illinois who moved to Greenville about a year and a half ago and has been following the Marietta dig.
For three months, Knight and dozens of other local volunteers have visited the site, which was recently unveiled publicly. It is located just inside the county line, midway between Pickens County's Pumpkintown community and Marietta. During that time, researchers have uncovered thousands of artifacts, unearthing a prehistoric Indian settlement believed by archaelogists to be between 500 to 1,500 years old. Those discoveries will undergo months of testing to determine their more exact age and purpose.
"It's not just about artifacts, it's about how they lived," said Wofford College geo-archaeology professor Terry Ferguson, who has been working with state researchers to excavate the site. Carbon dating on fire pits will help determine how long it has been since flames licked these prehistoric hearths. Detailed soil testing will help determine what — if any — crops were cultivated by the settlers, or if the plants they lived among were wild, he said.
"We are finding things out about prehistory here that we really didn't know before," Ferguson said. Not the least of which is the appearance of prehistoric pottery, the likes of which has never been found this far north, archaeologists report. Huge pieces of Stallings Island pottery — the earliest Native American pottery in the United States — have been discovered on the site, dating back as much as 4,000 years. The pottery, which is made of a paste formed by mixing Spanish moss with clay, predates farming, and varies in design from the plain to the very ornate.
"It just keeps turning up," said landowner Jesse Robertson, who has shared his farm with archaeologists during the dormant winter months. Since he bought his farm 30 years ago, Robertson has collected hundreds of artifacts, including several perfectly formed bowls, fist-sized stones as smooth as pieces of paper and arrowheads. He keeps them in carefully padded wooden boxes and glass displays at his house, but he frequently lifts them from their protective cases to be held and admired.
"A large number of artifacts have been collected out of this field, but not a lot of archaeology has been done up here," said Tommy Charles, an archaeologist with the University of South Carolina's Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology who also is heading the Upstate excavation effort. Through careful digging, sifting and mapping techniques, a settlement of some sort has taken shape on the land, including the edge of what was once a circular building. Archaeologists also have discovered two burial sites — although no bones — as well as fire pits, which likely were used by Native American settlers. As researchers move their work closer to the riverbed in coming months, even more discoveries about the land and its prehistoric settlers should become apparent, Charles said.
Source: Greenville News (16 March 2005)