Archaeology in the Parks: With a Big Help From Our Volunteers

South Carolina State Parks, Recreation and Tourism 
By Stacey Young, State Park Archaeologist

South Carolina State Parks had its beginnings in the 1930s when the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) constructed 16 parks located in various regions throughout the State. Currently, South Carolina State Parks, Recreation, and Tourism (SCPRT) manages over 80,000-acres of land which is comprised of 47 operational parks and six historic properties. Within these 47 park properties there are over 200 known archaeological sites which document the diverse cultural history of South Carolina and include the buildings, infrastructure, and landscapes created by the CCC. SC State Parks is not only able to preserve these resources, but also allow public visitation and participation in the preservation efforts. Many students, professionals, and avocational archaeologists have been vital to documenting sites and carrying out archaeological research at the Parks, especially Charles Towne Landing, Colonial Dorchester, Edisto Beach, and Hampton Plantation. 

Figure. Photograph of Lake Juniper at Cheraw State Park. Cheraw was the first State Park in South Carolina constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Today, the Park contains a golf course, lake, hiking trails, camping grounds, and cabins. You can visit Lake Greenwood State Park to view an interactive exhibit and learn more about the CCC history of SC State Parks.

Archaeological research programs are elements of two Parks; Charles Towne Landing and Colonial Dorchester. Staff archaeologists are stationed at these parks, direct seasonal excavations, and provide on-site interpretation. Volunteer assistance in the field and lab has been essential to the success of these programs. In the 1960s Colonial Dorchester was one of the first State Parks in South Carolina developed without a recreational theme. Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site contains the remains of a colonial town settled in 1697 and a well-preserved Revolutionary War fort constructed from tabby. Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site was acquired by the Park Service in the 1970s and contains the first permanent European settlement in the colony of South Carolina in 1670 as well as a variety of Native American, African American, and European sites. Avocational archaeologists with local knowledge of the area conducted some of the earliest archaeological work at both of these Parks. Perhaps most notable is the work of Johnny Miller at Charles Towne Landing. 

Figure. Photograph of the Revolutionary War fortification at Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site. The fort is constructed of tabby.

Donnie Barker, the first SC State Parks archaeologist began hosting seasonal archaeological excavations at several of the Parks in the 1990s, including Colonial Dorchester and Hampton Plantation. Barker recruited volunteers through advertisements in the local newspapers and also utilized the assistance of college students and professional archaeologists. The volunteer program proved successful in training those with an interest in archaeology and accomplishing research goals. Shortly thereafter, a site archaeologist was incorporated into the Colonial Dorchester staff. Nearly a decade later David Jones (recently retired) succeeded Barker as State Parks archaeologist, a staff archaeologist was hired at Charles Towne Landing, and the volunteer programs remained vital to archaeological work in the Parks. In his tenue, Jones brought a volunteer archaeology program to the forefront of Hampton Plantation State Historic Site. These efforts began in 2010 and incorporated the Charleston Chapter of the Archaeology Society of South Carolina (ASSC) and student volunteers. Nearly 20 years later, the volunteer excavations at Hampton Plantation have continued. 

Figure. Photograph from circa 1995 of volunteers washing artifacts at Hampton Plantation State Historic Site. Donnie Barker conducted excavations in the Kitchen building at Hampton and utilized volunteers for the excavations and laboratory work.
Figure. Photograph of volunteers troweling excavation units at Hampton Plantation State Historic Site. Excavations conducted over a five year period from 2010-2015 uncovered a house foundation and thousands of artifacts. The site is situated in an area occupied by enslaved laborers of the plantation. The site is now part of an interpretive trail.

Following historic flood events in 2015 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016, the volunteer excavations moved to Edisto Beach State Park. In 2017 the volunteer excavations focused on the last efforts to recover additional data from the Spanish Mount shell midden before it was lost to coastal erosion. The week long excavations brought together a group of more than 50 volunteers to help with the work. Analysis of the data is in progress and the results will help us learn more about Native American groups who occupied the area nearly 4,000 years ago. Future endeavors at Edisto Beach State Park will focus on developing interpretive exhibits about the site. 

Figure. David Jones and volunteers at Edisto Beach State Park working on recovery efforts at Spanish Mount.

Follow the ASSC blog to learn more about work at Colonial Dorchester, Charles Towne Landing, and Hampton Plantation State Historic Sites and visit the South Carolina State Parks website to explore more about the Parks and discover your destination!

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