06 October 2008

Native Americans in Beaufort County

Once upon a time, Native Americans roamed the wetlands, fished the estuaries, and camped along our riverbanks. Many small Native American groups lived in the area. These former residents left behind shell middens, pottery shards, and their words upon our landscape: Wimbee, Combahee, Kussoh, Yamasee, Pocotaligo, Coosawhatchie, Daufuskie, Salkehatchie. The groups were rather small and unorganized, key factors in the ability of European newcomers to successfully take advantage of them.


Native American history, up to the point of European contact, can be divided into four main historical periods:

The Paleo-Indian Period

10000 BCE - 8000 BCE
Remnants of Paleo-Indian culture in the Historic Beaufort District are found considerably further inland than today's epicenter of civilization--the coast. It was around fifteen degrees cooler then, 11000-12000 years ago, when the first people inhabited the area. The cooler, wetter climate accompanying a variety and abundance of herding animals (many of which are extinct today) attributed to the highly mobile nature of early American peoples. Although many artifacts of their habitation are found in the more inland reaches of the Historic Beaufort District (namely today's Allendale County,) few indications of their existence can be found in today's coastal regions. But, did you know that during the time of Paleo-Indians the Carolina coast was approximately 50 miles further east than it is now? It is possible that all coastal Paleo-Indian artifacts have been swallowed up by the Atlantic!

The Archaic Period

8000 BCD - 2000 BCE
Glacial retreat and gradual global warming at the end of the Paleo-Indian Period at the beginning of the Archaic Period raised the sea levels to within 13 feet of today's levels. The sea islands and today's Carolina "lowcountry" began to take shape. Indian populations grew while mammoths and mastodon, along with various other large mammals, became extinct. Shellfish, fish, and turtle became Indian diet essentials.

The Woodland Period

2000 BCE - 1000 BCE
While fired-clay pottery shards often indicate the Woodland Period Indian presence, Indian shell mounds are the most prevalent evidence of this Indian culture in the Historic Beaufort District. Evidence of this culture can be found on Hilton Head Island, Coosaw Island, Daws Island, and St. Helena Island. For more information about a few Indian shell mounds in Beaufort County, check out the SC Department of Natural Resources--Managed Lands website.

The Mississippian Period

1000 CE - 1600 CE
Archaeological sites of this period are found on just about every sea island of Beaufort County, as well as many inland rivers and creeks. We know more about this culture than any other Paleo-Indian civilization due to European exploration and expansion. At the time of first European contact, established agricultural practices, artistic expression, and ceremonial practices characterized this diverse and thriving culture. Unfortunately, this golden age of Indian culture would soon be demolished by disease, warfare, enslavement and exploitation.

Learn More:
To learn more about Indian culture in the historic Beaufort District, check out some of the following materials found @ the BDC:

333.72579 PRE. Preserving Paradise: The Beaufort County Rural and Critical Land Preservation Program (DVD)
This title is also available in the Local History collection at your local branch!

970.457 BIE. South Carolina Indian Lore by Bert W. Bierer
*contains countless maps, photographs, and illustrations of Native American life in coastal South Carolina. References to Beaufort District include shell mound and burial mound locations, trade paths, and discovered artifacts.

970.457 BIE. Indian Arrowheads and Spearheads in the Carolinas: A field guide by Bert W. Bierer
This title is also available at the Bluffton Branch Library!
*contains photographs and descriptions of found Native American tools.

975.7 CHI. Curricula Materials for the First South Carolinians: The life and times of native peoples in the palmetto state by Chicora Foundation, Inc.
*general history of South Carolina's Native Americans.

975.7915 HEN. Down & Dirty: Archaeology of the South Carolina Lowcountry by M. Patrick Hendrix
This title is also available at the Bluffton Branch Library!
*photographs, descriptions, and analysis of archaeological dig sites in or close to the Historic Beaufort District.

Online Resources:
Catawba Cultural Preservation Project
Search the History of South Carolina Slide Collection for "Native Americans"
Get your hands dirty at the Topper Site in Allendale County, SC

The Beaufort District Collection is a division of the Beaufort County Library, a department of Beaufort County Government of South Carolina.

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