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Lowcountry Unfiltered: Shell rings and secrets: Area Native American sites worth visiting

Layers of history: a Native American shell ring such as Greens Shell Enclosure located on Hilton Head Island is composed layer upon layer of oyster shells and other debris formed over ages of habitation by ancient people.
Layers of history: a Native American shell ring such as Greens Shell Enclosure located on Hilton Head Island is composed layer upon layer of oyster shells and other debris formed over ages of habitation by ancient people. Special to The Island Packet

The evidence is everywhere but you may not even notice it.

A nondescript pile of oyster shells bleached white by the sun.

A small, tree-covered islet in the marsh.

A crumbling embankment on the wooded edge of a tidal creek.

These are the signs of a once-vibrant Native American culture that spanned centuries and thrived along the coastlands. These people hunted, fished, raised their families and moved with the ebb and flow of tide and season to harvest the bounty of the Lowcountry. Their sites and settlements can still be seen in many places and can be visited at four local heritage preserve sites that are close to Bluffton.

When you visit, you will experience a journey into nature and a walk back in time that will remind you that long before condos and golf courses attracted visitors and residents to our area, another people knew the value and beauty of the world of the Lowcountry.

  • The Sea Pines Shell Ring may be one of the oldest examples of a Native American site in the area. Dating from nearly 4,000 years ago, these semi-nomadic inhabitants lived off the bounty of the islands and waterways and deposited thousands of shells in a wide ring around the site. Today it is part of the Sea Pines Forest Preserve and is accessible by hiking and boardwalk trails.
  • The Green's Shell Enclosure Heritage Preserve is located at Skull Creek on Hilton Head Island and may date from 700 years ago. Though not much is currently known about the site, it is clear from its location that it was well-suited for coastal life and today is preserved through the Heritage Trust program.
  • Altamaha Towne Heritage Preserve is just a short walk along a wooded pathway and is the site of a large 18th century Native American settlement from the Yemasee Indian period. It is located off Old Bailey Road in Okatie. It was rediscovered through the work of Dr. Chester DePratter, who is featured in the film "Sea Island Secrets" that reveals local ancient Native American habitation through his archeological survey of Port Royal Sound.
  • South Bluff Heritage Preserve is one of the more remote examples but the setting makes it worth the drive. Located on Coosaw Island near Beaufort, it offers multiple shell ring sites that may be viewed along a wooded interpretive trail. The inhabitants of this site may have lived here as much as 3,000 years ago.
  • DePratter, a research associate professor at the University of South Carolina, has spent many years working to research and survey Native American settlements in the Port Royal Sound area. His work featured in "Sea Island Secrets" revealed that even the small islands that dot the marshes surrounding Lowcountry islands can hold immense archeological and cultural value,

    "Each and every small pile of shell has something to tell us about where people chose to live, what they are, and how they adapted to the productive tidal creeks and hammocks," he said.

    When you visit these heritage preserves and historic sites, you will get a glimpse of the lives of these ancient peoples and the incredible force of beauty and abundance of the land in which we live.

    GETTING THERE

    For informationon each of these sites, call the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources at 803-734-3893 or visit www.dnr.sc.gov. Please note that any collecting of artifacts or damaging these sites is prohibited and fines or imprisonment for violations may result.

  • Sea Pines Shell Ring is located in the Sea Pines Forest Preserve at the Sea Pines Resort on Hilton Head Island. Open daily to the public. A gate fee of $5 may be required. Call (843) 842-1979 or visit www.exploreseapines.com for more information.
  • Green's Shell Enclosure Heritage Preserve is located at 99 Squire Pope Rd. on Hilton Head Island. There is no entry fee and it is open during daylight hours.
  • Altamaha Towne Heritage Preserve is located off Old Bailey Road in Okatie. It may be open as the season permits, but there is no entry fee. A small parking area leads to a hiking trail to the site.
  • South Bluff Heritage Preserve is located on South Bluff Road.on Coosaw Island. Coosaw Island is located at the end of Sam's Point Rd. in Beaufort. The drive to South Bluff on Coosaw is not paved the entire way so please be aware. Take Sams Point Road across the bridge to Coosaw Island. Take a right on Gannett Road and then a left onto South Bluff Road. The preserve is located on the right past the stop sign. Open daylight hours.
  • The ARKHAIOS Cultural Heritage and Archaeology Film Festival

    A fascinating gathering will be held Thursday through Saturday at Coligny Theatre on Hilton Head Island. Dr. Chester DePratter and other speakers and filmmakers will present films and other media that highlight Native American life and culture throughout history. "Sea Island Secrets" will be among the films shown. If you are interested in attending this event please call (843) 298-1638, email info@arkhaiosfilmfestival.org or visit http://www.arkhaiosfilmfestival.org for more information about this unique event.

    Bluffton resident Matt Richardson enjoys taking day trips with his family and exploring the Lowcountry. To see more pictures from his adventures, go to http://www.flickr.com and search on the username "greenkayak73." He can be reached at greenkayak73@gmail.com.

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