By Julie Howle
Sifting through the caked, red soil at a dig site near the south
Saluda River, researchers have unearthed pieces of ancient history
they hope will provide a glimpse of early life in the Upstate.
The archaeologists and volunteers returned this month for the first
time since August to the site in Pickens County that is a resting
place for American Indian artifacts, a spot that has been occupied
off and on for the last 10,000 years.
“It’s important to understand how people lived in the past,” said
Chris Clement, who works at the location, which is near the
Greenville-Pickens line. “Hopefully we can apply lessons learned
through that to the present and to the future.”
Searching the soil beneath this present-day farm, the researchers
have discovered almost a time capsule of relics from past cultures,
from pottery that dates back as many as 4,000 years to about 30 or 40
feet of a log fort built by Indians 600 to 700 years ago.
Farther down, workers last year unearthed a cluster of rocks that
date back 10,000 years, said Clement, principal investigator with the
South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology, a part of
the University of South Carolina.
People have lived in South Carolina for at least 12,000 years, he
said, but the 10,000-year-old cluster has the oldest confirmed and
culturally associated date in the state.
“It’s clearly something that people put there,” he said. “As of right
now that’s the earliest that particular site was occupied.”
Now they are hoping to go back even further in time.
“We want to see if there are any levels that are actually older than
the 10,000-year one we got,” said Terry Ferguson, who is also at the
dig and is program coordinator for the department of geology at
Ferguson, Clement and others will be there for about six to eight
weeks. To preserve the site’s integrity, they are close-lipped about
its exact location.
It’s one of two sites that sit across from each other, the other in
Greenville County, that are a venture of the Upstate South Carolina
Archaeological Research Group.
The Greenville location isn’t being excavated now, but work has been
done at both spots sporadically since 2004, said Ferguson, who helped
form the Upstate archaeological group in 2003.
“They have given us information about what we call culture
chronology, or essentially a history of the cultures of the area,” he
Ferguson said that at the Greenville site they found a 600- to 700-
year-old council house, about 40 feet in diameter, for Indian groups
who were ancestral to the Cherokee in the area.
“About every foot we go back about 1,000 years,” Ferguson said,
describing how the different levels tell different stories.
Clement said they’ve also found artifacts like tools and pottery. One
such item ó a piece of Stallings Island pottery that is typically
found along the Savannah River ó was found on the surface a few years
“It’s the first pottery that was made in the Americas, certainly
North America,” Clement said. “It’s pretty significant stuff.”
They are trying to find more because the piece they found was on the
surface, which means it was moved from where it was deposited.
“Finding it way up there on the Pickens-Greenville line was unusual,”
For Jesse Robertson, who owns the land where the Greenville site is,
it’s interesting to see the history come to life. He said his brother
owns the land on the Pickens side.
“We’ve been surface collecting for years,” Robertson said, describing
the many arrowheads and tools they’ve found. “It’s amazing to see how
long people have lived in the area.”
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