By: William Harris
Since June 1, in fulfillment of a requirement as an MSU AMEC graduate student, I have been holding an internship position for the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southeastern cultural resources division, based out of the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge on the South Carolina/Georgia border. The division consists of Rick Kanaski, William Brant, James Kevin “Chappy” Chapman (who is a Department of the Interior employee), and myself for this summer. Rick, William, and Chappy are the individuals overseeing the management of archaeological and other cultural resources on all USFWS properties in the states of Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, North and South Carolina, and all U.S. Caribbean territories.
My boss, Rick Kanaski of the USFWS, hard at work.
The USFWS actively manages and alters the landscape for the propagation of threatened wildlife, and as a federal agency, has a legal imperative to assess and protect its cultural resources during these projects. My job has been to update the site files that the division has on hand so that they may have accurate records to assess the damage potential from any USFWS undertaking. My work has included making/updating site maps, collecting and curating reports and other Cultural Resource Management (CRM) literature, and updating the division’s collection of individual site data. Occasionally I’ll be tasked to proofread and comment on draft reports and proposals sent in to Rick as part of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA) project certification process.
My living space is a very pleasant, and extremely large, two-unit hunting cabin on the north end of Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, located 30 miles east of where I work. The refuges where I live and work are mesmerizingly beautiful. Much of the landscape surrounding my cabin is a picturesque representation of the hot and humid Deep South, complete with live oak trees, pines, and tall palms, all draped heavily with Spanish moss. I am also located right next to the tidal salt marsh that surrounds the entire island and covers much of the coast of this region.
Some coastal marshland at ebb tide with oyster beds exposed, Pinckney Island National Wildlife Preserve, South Carolina.
There is almost no internet, and I don’t watch TV, so I play guitar, read books on Southeastern Coastal and Caribbean archaeology that Rick assigns me, and take walks in the forest and into the marsh. There is wildlife everywhere. Pinckney Island has two large rookeries for coastal bird species, every time one passes by them, you can see hundreds or even thousands of birds nesting in trees located in the middle of a pond. Alligators and armadillos are also everywhere, and I have photographed many of them. The alligators live in the water underneath the rookery, eating wayward chicks that have fallen from nests, in turn, the alligators also keep away egg-eaters like opossums and raccoons, so the birds and the alligators have a relationship that is commensal, mutualistic and parasitic all at the same time.
A young alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) resting beside the driveway of my cabin, Pinckney Island.
Armadillos, because of their inedible scaly armor, have no consistent predators on the island, not even alligators. Since tourists are commonly hiking on the island, they have lost much of their fear of humans and will walk up to your feet, just like the one in this photograph did.
Large nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novencinctus) rooting in the grass for insects, Pinckney Island NWR.
I also spend many evenings going crabbing on the south end of the island. The process is simple, get a saltwater license, as I have, go to a public dock, and drop ready-made hoop-nets (pots) baited with chicken gizzards into the water at low tide, wait for a few minutes, then pull up the traps as quickly as possible so the crabs can’t swim out. The other day, I caught seven blue crabs in one evening, almost all females. Other crabs that live on the island include small species of fiddler crab. Fiddler crabs cover the marshes in the millions and are no larger than, and look like, medium-sized spiders.
Two female Atlantic blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) I caught with a drop-net and chicken gizzards.
Surrounding the island, and almost everywhere else in the area, prehistoric shoreline oyster middens can be seen easily by even the most passive observer. One prominently visible midden that I know of has been partly excavated and has revealed artifacts that date from about the Middle Woodland period (200 B.C. – 500 A.D.) onwards.
Not the site mentioned in the text, but a portion of one of the many prehistoric saltwater shellfish-middens scattered across the coastal landscape.
The Spanish colonized and missionized the area here and southwards between the 1560’s and 1680’s, ultimately abandoning the region due to overwhelming attacks from Indians revolting against Spanish cruelty. Parris Island, which I can see across the marsh from my cabin, was the site of the Santa Elena colony and its forts, founded in 1566 to expand Spanish Florida northwards. The doomed Juan Pardo expeditions into the Carolina interior began from this settlement. Ultimately, the colony failed after a few decades. British colonization saw the importation of large numbers of African slaves for the establishment of plantations along the coast. By using irrigation systems that used tides to push more buoyant freshwater into converted fields, rice became the most important crop in the region until the Reconstruction era. Rice trunks, or hand-made wooden sluices that were opened or closed depending on the tide, are common historic features near the coast. Gullah, an African-American Creole English dialect that emerged during the Antebellum period, is still spoken in parts of the Black community here. The presence of still-active groups of Gullah-speaking residents with their own traditions, such as sweetgrass basketry, has been a focus of many cultural anthropologists and historians in the area.
I’ll leave here by noting that I lost my glasses in the ocean on Hilton Head Island, which is immediately adjacent to Pinckney. Because I couldn’t see, I had to use Uber to get around until the next day, when I was forced to spend my paycheck on an eye exam and my first new set of glasses in seven years. That was a bad two days, but otherwise, all’s well, this area is beautiful, and my work experience has been invaluable.
Pinckney Island interior marshland during a drought, a few days and a storm later, this was all underwater at high tide.