FLORENCE COUNTY, SC (WBTW) – A team of archaeologists digging along the Great Pee Dee River in South Carolina is uncovering more about the Native Americans who once lived there.
Chris Judge, secretary of the Pee Dee Archaeological Society and associate director of Native American studies at USC Lancaster, said rivers like the Great Pee Dee were the highways of the pre-colonial era, serving as hubs for settlements and trade. He said the team had found evidence of groups living in the area for thousands of years.
On Friday, the team was about halfway through its dig. Archaeologists and volunteers dug up excavation blocks, then sifted through the earth in hopes of finding artifacts.
He said the oldest artifact discovered by the team dates back 2,500 years. Many of the artifacts found were from the Mississippian era, when Native American communities covered much of what is now the United States.
“It’s the last stage of Native American development before European invasion,” Judge said.
He thinks that the people who lived in present-day Florence County, South Carolina, were on the frontier of this society.
“They were probably somewhere between a chiefdom-level society and a state-level society. We don’t want to take anything away from them – they were complex,” Judge said. “Mississipians knew each other from a great distance, traveling, trading, and connecting with each other.”
The judge said that over the millennia, many different groups have settled in the area, leaving behind small traces that have lasted through the ages. Some of these traces included evidence of poles, which SCDNR archaeologist Tariq Ghaffar says could have been part of a house.
“It’s always interesting to try to reconstruct in your mind what the environment was like and what the culture was like 3,000 years ago,” Ghaffar said.
Ben Zeigler, chairman of the board of the Pee Dee Archaeological Institute, said this was the group’s second dig. The former discovered the Cashaway Baptist Church in Darlington County, which originated in the 1700s. He said their next project would be to find Revolutionary War General Francis Marion’s camp on Snow Island.
“Mississipian sites in the Pee Dee are relatively rare,” Zeigler said. “We don’t know much about the Mississippian period in the Pee Dee, so we think it’s a great opportunity to learn.”
Some of the volunteers wanted to learn more about a more personal story, such as Cheryl Cail, Vice Chief of the Waccamaw Indian People.
“Our ancestors were here,” Cail said. “It’s really spiritual, I guess that’s the best way to put it. To be here, where I know they may have hunted, cooked, caught fish in the river and survived.
The dig was funded by Florence County Council on land owned by Santee Cooper. The team hopes to display the artifacts at the Florence County Museum.
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