Archaeology in the Parks: Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site

We continue our ongoing park series with a blog entry by Charles Towne Landing Archaeologist Nicole Isenbarger.

In April 1670, a group of English colonists and enslaved Africans landed and established a small town settlement at Albemarle Point, a secluded bluff located directly across the Ashley River from the peninsula of present-day Charleston. Charles Towne, named in honor of Charles II, is the first permanent European settlement in South Carolina and acted as the seat of government in the initial years of the Carolina colony. 

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Archaeological inquiry into the original location of Charles Towne began in the late 1960s as part of the preparations for South Carolina’s 300th anniversary celebrations. The town was first documented by Johnny Miller, an avocational archaeologist associated with The Charleston Museum, and subsequent excavations were conducted by Stanley South with the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology. Since acquiring the 80-acre property from the South Carolina Tricentennial Commission in 1971, South Carolina Parks, Recreation and Tourism has managed and researched the cultural resources and offers public and educational programs. Charles Towne Landing was continuously occupied since the 1670s and contains both prehistoric and historic archaeological contexts that include Woodland era shell middens, a Mississippian ceremonial center, the seventeenth century town, colonial plantations and slave settlement, Revolutionary War era contexts, African American cemetery, and twentieth century gardens.

Overhead photograph of excavations which exposed lime floor and brick features associated with 1670 settlement

Current research is working to gain insights into the layout of the original 1670s settlement and the lives of the colonists. We have identified several brick structures likely associated with the early town, including one with a brick hearth and the earliest documented lime floor in the southeastern United States. Other parts of the settlement include impermanent buildings and evidence of the crops the colonists were experimenting with in their search for viable and economic staples –including barley, rice, grapes, tobacco, and cotton. While we have a professional archaeologist on staff, these efforts could not have been accomplished without the continued assistance and support of student interns, local volunteers and avocational archaeologists, and collaboration with a variety of outside scholars and researchers.

Brick feature associated with 1670 settlement

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