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2020 Shell Ring Dig on Pockoy Island Delayed

The archaeology excavation that was scheduled during May at Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve is now delayed. The dig was scheduled to be open to the public to attend, but social distancing amid the current coronavirus pandemic makes that scenario unwise. Archaeology is the study of human history and prehistory through the excavation of sites and the analysis of artifacts and other physical remains. While the study of history is being delayed by the current events making history today, an in-depth documentary video by the South Carolina Humanities Program is now available.
Never heard of Pockoy Island? It is more commonly known as the barrier island with the beach frontage at Botany Bay WMA on Edisto Island. Never heard of a shell ring? It’s nothing more than an aggregation of oyster shells that were put in a circular pattern by native Americans that inhabited the Lowcountry. Just what they were up to with this unique design is at the heart of the debate, which drives this archaeology dig. Never heard of S.C. Humanities program? Their mission is to increase public understanding of and support for the humanities by telling the human story of the past and bringing these perspectives to bear on contemporary issues.
A trio of shell rings known as Fig Island in nearby Beaufort County is the largest complex of shell rings known along the Atlantic coastline, dating from 4000-years ago in the Late Archaic period. Fig Island has National Historic Landmark status, and the largest is wider than a football field and links together concentric shell rings. Similar shall rings were discovered on Pockoy Island in 2017 using a new radar process called Lydar, which can map elevation changes in areas where visual access is limited due to vegetation growth. Waterfowl enthusiasts recall that Lydar is also being used to identify historic ricefields that are no longer visible from the air.
The Ring People documentary film was produced in 2019 and takes viewers to remote sites like Fig Island and Pockoy Island. The two features at Botany Bay are called Pockoy 1 and Pockoy 2, with Pockoy 1 being documented as the oldest known shell ring in S.C. dating back 4,300-years ago. Readers of the Colletonian recall from past stories about the coastline that barrier islands are basically geology in fast forward.
Since Pockoy Island is suffering severe erosion from the Atlantic Ocean, this archaeology site is receiving expedited attention. For nearly 70 years, Botany Bay Plantation has experienced a high rate of erosion, moving as much as three-quarters of a mile inland. Edisto Island history records that nearby Edingsville Beach was erased by the Atlantic Ocean and the Sea Island Hurricane of 1893. Estimates are that the Pockoy 1 site could be lost to the ocean by 2024, earning it the title of Heritage At Risk, a global term defining where cultural resources are under threat.
Even though the 2020 dig is delayed, excavations from 2017 – 2019 at Pockoy 1 have revealed thickness and diameter measurements. Pockoy 1 is about 60-meters across and 60-centimeters thick in the shape of a donut. Shovel Test Pits were started in July 2017, followed by careful hand excavation to determine where to feature excavation trenches in the future. The heart of the donut is called the plaza, and this term applies to the center of all known shell rings. Excavations in 2018 focused on the plaza itself. The May 2019 field season saw SCDNR archaeologists joined by over 400-volunteers, expanding the research area to include Pockoy 2. The May 2020 field season was intended to welcome another cadre of volunteers to assist in the digging, but for now the secrets of the shell ring will remain untouched.
Initial radiocarbon dating reveals that Fig Island may have been in use for multiple centuries, and Pockoy Island was perhaps active only 100 years of less. The S.C. Humanities program will continue to ask questions such as why were the Pockoy Island shell rings constructed and how are they connected to the larger network of shell ring communities across the Southeastern coastline, especially from Georgia up to North Carolina. The early native Americans were hunters and gatherers that relied on oysters for food, and then used the shells for other purposes. Anyone that goes for a walk on the beach or shucks open an oyster shell to eat, instantly touches on a shared cultural history with have with the Ring People.
Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at LowcountryOutdoors.com

Fig Island Shell Ring. Photo by S.C. Humanities
Jeff Dennis, Contributor (394 Posts)

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com