- May 6, 2008, Rincon, Georgia, Fresh from the beach.
Archaeologists have known about the paleontological fossil site at the north end of Edisto Island at Jeremy Inlet since at least the 1960s. The Charleston Museum has fossils from this place dating back to at least the 1820s and possibly earlier. I became aware of this place in 1978 when I first vacationed at the Edisto Island State Park with my colleague Jean H. McPherson. Over the course of the next 30 years, I made numerous visits to that place and surface collected fossils. As a casual visitor, I managed to accumulate a sizable collection of fossils from this site. I have also observed other finds made by friends and acquaintances.
The fossil deposit has yielded a rich assortment of Pliocene and Pleistocene fossils. These include both land and marine creatures both big and small. The land animals include mammoth, mastadon, giant sloth, bison, horse, camel, capybara, deer, elk, large cats, various turtles, and numerous small mammals. The marine animals include whales, dolphins, manatees, many species of sharks and rays, drum fish, and numerous other species.
Jeremy Inlet also contains an impressive assortment of prehistoric pottery and a few chipped stone tools. The pottery dates to several periods from the Terminal Archaic (Stallings Series and Thoms Creek Series), Early-Middle Woodland (Deptford Series) to various complicated stamped and cord marked types (untyped but probably Middle Woodland through Late Mississippian). The stone tools that I have observed included stemmed and triangular projectile points of Late Archaic through Late Woodland age. The area on both sides of Jeremy Inlet also has a thin veneer of historic artifacts from the late 18th through late 19th centuries, including brick, ceramics, glass, nails, and other metal items, which are mostly the remains of the village of Eddington–a settlement that was destroyed by hurricanes in the 1890s.
H.S. Ladd (1939) provides an important discussion of the Edisto fossil deposits in a National Park Service publication. He provides a partial list and several black and white photographs of terrestrial species found as fossils at Edisto by CCC workers in the 1930s. He also offers some interpretations as to the source and taphonomy of this fossil bed.
A state park employee reported finding a human long bone on the beach at Edisto Island in the 1970s. The report of this find was published in a brief article in a South Carolina archaeology journal. The current whereabouts of this very important fossil find is unknown to me.
In the late 1970s Paleontologist (and sometimes archaeologist) Janet Roth excavated a small test unit in the marsh at Edisto Island for her M.S. thesis (See Roth and Laerm 1980). My friend and archaeologist Greg Paulk assisted Ms. Roth in this undertaking. Sanders (2002) contains further discussion of the finds at Edisto Island by Roth and her colleagues.
Fossil collectors have been particularly busy at Edisto over the past three decades. Many fossils have been removed from the beach by collectors (including myself) and the ultimate disposition of most of these collections is unknown. Steps need to be taken to compensate for this steady drain on the resource base. The South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology has maintained a hobby diver program for several decades and this program partially addresses this issue. Under this program divers who scour the murky bottoms of the numerous blackwater rivers and streams that drain the South Carolina coastal plain are registered with the state.
Two recent fossil finds at Jeremy Inlet warrant special mention. The first is a small fossilized (black) fragment of a rib from an unidentified large mammal, which exhibits a “bullet-shaped” drill hole in cross-section. The artifacts has two or more striations, which are oriented perpendicular to the long axis of the drill hole. These striations probably represent marks left by the drill bit as the drill was removed and the drilling residue removed and the drill bit then reinserted into the hole. This artifact was found by Dan Elliott in April, 2008. It was found on the beach surface on the south side of Scott’s Branch at Jeremy Inlet, approximately 50 meters below the high-water dune margin. Two photographs of this object are shown below (on metric graph paper).
The other important find was a section of cranium (skull cap) of what appears to be a Homo Sapien Sapien. This item has been fossilized and is light chocolate brown to medium brown in color. It contains several parallel cut marks on its surface, which may be intentional. While this skull is petrified, it is not as discolored as most of the fossil bones from Edisto Island. This artifact was found by a local resident of Edisto Island, who has been actively collecting fossils and artifacts from Jeremy Inlet for the past five years. Her collection was briefly examined by Dan Elliott in May, 2008. This collection also contains many Stallings and Thoms Creek pottery sherds, as well as later wares.
Ladd, 1939, Land Animals from the Sea, The Regional Review III(3): (NPS), http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/regional_review/vol3-3b.htm
Roth, Janet A., and Josh Laerm, 1980, A Late Pleistocene Vertebrate Assemblage from Edisto Island, South Carolina. Brimleyana 3:1-29.
Sanders, Albert E., 2002, Additions to the Pleistocene Mammal Faunas of South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia. American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Lennon, Gered, 1996, Living with the South Carolina Coast, Nature, pp 108-110, http://books.google.com
Paleo Direct, 2008, Land Mammal Fossils, http://www.paleodirect.com/mammalfossils.htm
Paleontological Research Institution, 2008, Beachcombing for Fossils, http://www.priweb.org/ed/earthtrips/Edisto/jeremy.html
Sport Diver Archaeology Management Program, Maritime Research Division, FAQ, S.C. I.A.A., 2008, http://www.cas.sc.edu/SCIAA/mrd/sdamp_hdl_faqs.html
The Paleobiology Database, http://paleodb.org/cgi-bin/bridge.pl?action=displayCollectionDetails&collection_no=65405