As our version of American History tells us, European explorers “discovered” North America and the Caribbean island areas over 500 years ago. The indigenous inhabitants that have come to be known as American Indians had actually lived in relative harmony with their environment for thousands of years prior to our European ancestor’s arrival. Today, scant evidence of their once having thrived in the coastal Lowcountry areas has all but disappeared with the exception of occasional shell rings or “middens” as archeologists refer to these deposits of utensils, pottery shards, bones, and other assorted artifacts, evidence of where tribal peoples once went about their business as they conducted their daily lives. Not much more than a garbage dump, modern day Americans have largely ignored or misunderstood these scattered shell deposits. According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, coastal Georgia’s largest shell ring is more than nine feet high and three hundred feet in diameter and found on Sapelo Island:
Native Americans occupying the coastal zone of Georgia created these features during the latter part of the Late Archaic Period (4,200 to 3,000 years ago). Shell (mostly oyster) makes up a major part of the rings, but also located in the middens are the remains of many different plants and animals that native groups used for food and medicine.
In recent years, eco-tourism friendly boat charter professionals have made it a point to identify some of the better hidden areas found in our coastal waters throughout South Carolina and Georgia for their clientele that have a new found interest in poking around in this ancient garbage heaps. On a recent trip to Daufuskie Island from Hilton Head Island our gracious host Captain Blair Willis of Live Oac pointed out a couple of different shell ring middens and allowed as how their popularity were on the up tick with many of his day trip charters that provide for a completely different vacation tour experience.