In the ACE Basin region of South Carolina, multiple sites document the prehistoric use of the area. Shell midden sites provide clues to the daily lives of Native Americans. Midden is a word from the Norse language meaning "refuse heap." Shell middens are gradually formed rubbish piles, made up largely of shell refuse, but the shell can also enhance preservation of buried organic items like bone and antler. All of the middens in the ACE Basin study area date from the late Archaic (4000-1000 BC) to the middle Woodland (0-500 AD) period (See related section: Time Periods ). Middens provide clues indicating how cultures used coastal environments and which types of food resources they exploited. Middens contain the remains of the food eaten, fragments of ceramics used, and other artifacts involved in daily life.
The primary types of fauna eaten by early coastal inhabitants include the following: oysters; clams; periwinkles; whelks; moonsnails; razor clams; mussels; cockles; white-tailed deer; minks; raccoons; opossums; black bears; rabbits; turkeys; ducks; several species of turtles, including the diamondback terrapin; blue crabs; and fish including drum, snapper, flounder, catfish, and gar. (See related section: Species Gallery.) Out of this wide variety of species, the most prevalent are the shellfish, deer, diamondback terrapins, and fish.
Ceramics are also often found in shell middens. Ceramic sherds can provide clues to their use. Some sherds have charred remains on their interiors, indicating something was burned inside them, and these charred remains can be used to obtain a date for the site. In addition, many of the ceramic sherds exhibit decoration, which allows estimating temporal and geographical distinctions. Decorative patterns include punctations with periwinkle shells and reeds, and pinching with shells and fingernails.
Shell middens in the ACE Basin study area provide a wealth of information on prehistoric cultures. Many factors including erosion and looting affect the archaeological integrity of these sites. For these reasons, the location of archaeological and historic sites is often considered confidential, and information about most sites is restricted. Disturbance of archaeological sites in the ACE Basin study area is punishable under the terms of various federal, state, and local regulations.
Bense, J. 1994. Archaeology of the southeastern United States. Academic Press, San Diego, CA.
Sutherland, D. 1974. Excavations at the Spanish Mount shell midden Edisto Island, South Carolina. South Carolina Antiquities 6(1)25-36.
Trinkley, M. 1990. An archaeological context for the South Carolina Woodland period. Chicora Foundation, Columbia, SC.