Sapelo Island has been the site of man’s
activities for well over three thousand years. Since 1974,
Dr. Lewis Larson, the State Archeologist, and others from West Georgia
College have been involved in the archeology of the Sapelo sites, and
their Sapelo Papers* [* Sapelo Papers: Researches in the History and
Prehistory of Sapelo Island, Georgia. West Georgia College Studies
in the Social Sciences Vol. XIX, 1980] present a fascinating, albeit
fragmentary, perception of a people and life style long gone.
The occupation sites of the aboriginal
inhabitants were situated where there was convenient access to freshwater,
tidal streams and saltmarsh, apparently not by the seashore.
The food fragments found in the middens have indicated the consumption
of animals found at the marsh edge and in the tidal creeks. The
fish remains are those of fish such as catfish and mullet likely to be
caught by trapping, impoundment or netting. Assuming the fish population
has not changed significantly, this means that the early inhabitants
failed to benefit from the large sportfish such as speckled trout, channel
bass and black drum.
There is a large shell ring (Q) of Indian
origin to be found on the western side of the island between the more
modern ruins at Chocolate (P) and those at High Point (R). This
ring is deceptive for the casual observer because its current composition
implies a diet largely comprising oysters, with some clams and whelks.
In fact, mammals such as deer, raccoon, dog and opossum, together with fish,
are now known to have been the major components of the Indian diet.
However, since the vertebrate remains are more subject to weathering, they
become less visually and volumetrically dominant with the passage of
time. This ring stands three to four meters high and is slightly more
than a hundred meters in diameter. It appears to be the result
of an accumulation of refuse, probably from dwellings arranged in a
circular patter. Excavations have identified hearths and what appear
to be house floors in the body of the shell ring. Bone pins and
pottery have also been found here. By contrast, the central area
was kept so clean of refuse that it must have been by deliberate intent.
Radiocarbon dating has given an approximate age for the materials of the
ring, and two of the dates estimated are 3,700 years B.P. ± 250
years, and 4,100 years B.P. ± 200 years.
Other Indian sites on the island which
have been examined are Bourbon Field (T) and Kenan Field (L).
Bourbon Field is an aggregate village area which has been plowed extensively
in the recent past for agriculture, and is still being plowed today to
provide open pasture for grazing by deer and turkey. Shells and
pottery sherds with a variety of tempering inclusions and stamped and cord-marked
patterns can be readily found on the soil surface, over a wide area.
Almost two hundred disturbed shell middens have been counted at Bourbon
Kenan Field was the location of a 158-acre
Indian village, occupied between approximately 1,000 A.D. and 1,600
A.D. It remains are still to be found among the planted pines covering
Kenan Field. The most prominent feature is a large burial mound
but there is also a smaller mound and a long, low earthen embankment
running east to west about five hundred feet south of the large mound.
Excavations have indicated the former presence of two large buildings,
separated by a plaza; these were presumably of significance for political
and ceremonial events in the village. The structures were most
likely platforms, with the larger of the two being about 150 feet long
and 100 feet wide and probably roofed. They have been detected
only by examination of subtle evidence left in the soil and are not readily
discernable today. It appears that food was prepared in certain
areas of the village and consumed in others, and that there were specific
areas apparently devoted to specific occupations. All these pieces
of evidence argue for a structured and formal arrangement to the activities
of the village.