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Kiawah Island - Steven J. Coker
Subject: Kiawah Island
From: Steven J. Coker
Date: July 23, 1998

environmental inventory of kiawah island
prepared for Coastal Shores, Inc.
by Environmental Research Center, Inc.
Columbia, South Carolina
project directors: William M. Campbell, John Mark Dean
project coordinator: W. David Chamberlain
October 1, 1975

This copy posted with permission from W. David Chamberlain


Section A
by John D. Combes 


The archaeological reconnaissance of Kiawah Island has been as productive as
anticipated prior to the investigation. The search for prehistoric and
historic site locations has provided us with evidence for at least 6,000 years
of human history on Kiawah Island. 

It is important to note that the name of this island "Kiawah", (sometimes -
Kiawha, Kiowa, Keywaha, Kyawaw, Kayawah) was most likely named after an
important South Carolina Indian Tribe that inhabited the coastal region of
South Carolina at the time of contact in the mid 17th Century. The original
settlement of South Carolina was slated to take place at Port Royal, however,
at the invitation of the Kiawahs the settlers elected to settle at Albemarle
Point in 1670. The first few years it was even referred to as "Albemarle poynt
at Kyawaw" (Cheves 1897: 174). It is also clear that without the aid of these
native Americans this little settlement would not have succeeded

". . . . wee found very great Assistance from the Indians who shewed them
selves very kinde & sould vs Provisions att very reasonable rates & takeinge
notice of our necessitys did almost daylie bringe one thinge or another
otherwise wee must vndoubtedly have binn putt to extreame hardshipps . . . ."

The Kiawah Indians were very much a part of early Colonial South Carolina. The
location of this group is shown as "Kayawah Indian Settlements" on the 1695
map of Thornton and Morden. This also shows up again on Sanson's map of 1696
and once again in 1711 oh the Edward Crisp map. All of these show them on what
is now known as Kiawah Island (Cumming, 1958; also at Caroliniana Library).

It is also of interest that in 1707 when trading licenses were first required
for trade with the Indians in the Colony, the Itawans, Sewees, Santees,
Stonoes, Kiawahs, Kussoes, Edistoes and the St. Helenas were excepted (Royce,
1899). It is not certain what this means, other than in 1707 the remaining
Kiawahs were not significantly involved in trade relations. They continued to
dwindle in size and by March 1, 1743 about 15 Kiawah requested that the Lt.
Governor give them a reservation somewhere "southwest of the Combee River",
which was granted (Council Journal IV, 104). 

It has been pointed out many times that archaeologically, coastal South
Carolina is perhaps one of the least understood areas in the Southeast.
Investigators are only now on the verge of formulating a sophisticated culture
sequence for the area. 

The first archaeological research in the coastal area began in the 1890's when
Clarence B. Moore explored the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts of the Southeastern
United States. Several of these reports were published in 1897, 1898 by the
American Philosophical Society of Philadelphia. He listed numerous sites along
the Sea Island area.

The next research was sponsored by the WPA 40 years later and was represented
by projects in the vicinity of the Savannah River and on St. Simon's Island.
These excavations provided several important pieces of work, the Irene Site
(Caldwell and McCann, 1941) and the Bilbo Site (Waring, 1968). In addition,
the WPA years provided the basis for the existing cultural and chronological

In the decades following, research started to increase somewhat. Investigators
such as Antonio J. Waring, Joseph R. Caldwell, Lewis H. Larson, James A. Ford,
William E. Edwards, Charles H. Fairbanks, James B. Stoltman, Gene Waddell,
Alan Calmes, Jerald T. Milanich, Drexel A. Peterson, E. Thomas Hemmings, Don
Crusoe, Stan South, Chester DePratter, plus others have done varying kinds of
archaeological research in or related to sea islands. The above mentioned work
has been mostly concerned with establishing pottery sequences, securing
carbon-14 dates and establishing stratigraphic relationships. For the most
part, these studies were made from small test excavations and a reexamination
of collections already made. These studies are useful and are typical of
pioneering efforts but they provide little insight into the total picture of
how people were living within a time sequence in an area. 

The earliest pottery found on the South Carolina Coast is a sand-tempered ware
which until recently was thought to occur only in shell ring sites and in
simple shell middens. Type descriptions for these early wares had not appeared
in the literature and were usually referred to as Awendaw and Horse Island
punctate. They seemed to be related to the better understood Thom's Creek
punctate, but the nature of this relationship had not been established. 

Stanley South, during his excavation at the Charles Towne Landing site,
recovered sand-tempered sherds in a non-shell midden context which were
clearly associated with the important Thom's Creek ware group ceramics (South,
1973). Ferguson (1973), discussing South's new look at the ceramics of the
region, makes the following remarks:

". . . . Taking a purely taxonomic approach, South divided the ceramics of the
South Carolina coast into a hierarchical system of Ware-Group, Ware, and Type:
representative of Formative, Developmental, and Climactic stages of ceramic
evolution (Fig. 8). The two major ware-groups of the Formative were the fiber
tempered Stallings Ware-Group and the sand tempered Thom's Creek Ware-Group.
Division was based primarily on temper, and South noted that the decorative
techniques are similar for both ware-groups. Within the Thom's Creek
Ware-Group South included the well defined Thom's Creek and Refuge Wares. The
"types" Awendaw and Horse Island were not included in a ware because of their
poor definition. (Operationally South uses Awendaw to refer to finger
puncatated ceramics while Horse Island is used to refer to those ceramics
decorated with the punctations of marine shells.) Through this classificatory
scheme South provides for reference of ceramics from the coast to the
ware-group level if the materials cannot be placed within a well defined

Further, Ferguson notes that a great deal of confusion exists regarding this
and all early coastal wares. 

Historically, the term "Awendaw" is used to refer to a sand or non-tempered
ware reported and recovered from a number of sites along the coastal region of
South Carolina. The name is derived from the small town Awendaw located about
twenty miles northeast of Charleston on the seacoast in Charleston County. In
the vicinity of Awendaw a number of sites have been reported which contain
ceramics characterized by a finger-punched surface treatment that have become
known as Awendaw. 

Awendaw ceramics were named in 1965 by Eugene Waddell in a paper he presented
to the Southeastern Archaeological Conference. At that time he gave a
description of the ware and delineated its distribution along the South
Carolina Coast. No formal descriptions have yet appeared in the literature.
However, the term has come to be used in reference to finger pinched ceramics
of what is believed to be Late Archaic and recovered along coastal South

Finger-pinch ceramics were first reported by Gregorie (1925) in her discussion
of Indians and Indian remains in Christ Church Parish where Awendaw is
located. Although her report was incorrect as to the age of the ware (she
assumed the material was protohistoric), she recognized and illustrated
finger-pinched sherds in her report. James Griffin (1943) in a discussion of a
ceramic collection from the Chesterfield site in Beaufort County reported on
and illustrated two finger-pinched sherds that he left untyped for a lack of a
large enough sample. 

Antonio Waring (1964) collected a sample of carbon from the Yough Hall shell
ring near Awendaw, a site with ceramics for the most part either plain or
finger-punched in surface decoration. The age determination was 3770  130
(M-1209) and provides us with one of the few reliable dates of this ware.
Other sites have been dated (Edisto, Sewee and others) that contain this ware
and the generally accepted age is the second millenium before Christ. 

Waddell (1965) gives a description of this ware, its spacial description and a
brief inventory of its traits. Later (1970) he gives his impression of the
wares' temporal "place" stating that he thinks the ware is very early,
possibly the initial ceramic type for the area, coeval with and possibly even
earlier than Stallings fiber tempered, and this position is also shared by
South (1973). 

Until recently this ware has been reported exclusively from shell midden
sites: Yough Hall (Waddell,1965), Sewee shell ring (Edwards, 1965), Shull
Creek (Calmes, 1967), Spanish Mount (Sutherland, 1974), and Marrett Mound
(Trinkly, 1974). Recent ceramic distributional studies by Anderson in 1974 and
1975 confirm this (personal communication). 

Taxonomic discussion of the ware has been limited to the initial attempt by
Waddell (1965, 1970), who believes that it is related to Stallings and Thom's
Creek ware (temporally) and the discussion of South (1973) and Chester De
Pratter et. al. (1973) who likewise place it at an early period and closest to
Thom's Creek. 

As already pointed out, Ferguson (1973) noted a great deal of confusion
existing regarding this and all coastal wares. The only solution to this will
be further work. It seems obvious that the former association of Awendaw
material with shell heaps and rings reflects the archaeologists bias when
looking for coastal sites, i.e., looking only for shell heaps while searching
for archaeological sites. 

An extremely interesting phenomenon occurring only in the sea island region of
South Carolina and Georgia is the existence of shell rings. These are manmade
structures consisting of a doughnut shaped circle of shells in the form of a
ridge usually around two feet high and from 130 to 300 feet in diameter. The
interior portion is usually flat and devoid of shell. This ring of shell is
composed of approximately one-half oyster and one-half other shell combined
with earth and a moderate frequency of artifacts, including pottery fragments,
bone and shell tools. The two dates so far recovered from a shell ring are
From 3100 to 3400 years ago. The pottery fragments from the sites are tempered
with vegetal fiber and are among the oldest evidence of pottery in North
America. They are thought to represent an occupation by people of the final
stage of the Archaic Period of American Indian culture. 

Very little actual archaeological work has been done with shell rings and
therefore they remain somewhat of a mystery. Antonio J. Waring was among the
first to recognize the importance of the shell ring sites and tested shell
rings on Hilton Head Island. Alan Calmes has also done some serious testing on
Hilton Head rings. The only other shell ring research was done by E. Thomas
Hemmings in a ring on nearby Edisto Island. 

The cultures represented in the coastal region around Kiawah Island that may
be summarized:

(1) The Paleo-Indian Period of 10,000 or more years ago (not yet identified in
the area).

(2) The Early and Middle Archaic Periods of pre-pottery culture extending over
the period of 8,000 or 9,000 years ago to 4,000 years ago.

(3) The fiber-tempered and sand-tempered pottery period of 4,000 to about
2,500 years ago (well represented on Kiawah Island).

(4) The Deptford Period carved-paddle-maleated pottery (well represented).

(5) The Wilmington Period cord marked pottery (well represented).

(6) The Savannah Period cord marked and complicated stamped pottery (well

(7) The Protohistoric Period-Irene Period, 1,600 to 1,400 (?).

(8) The Historic Period 1,600 - present.


An archaeological survey of any area is a difficult task because it requires a
careful inspection of the soil throughout the entire area of interest. An area
like the sea islands of Coastal South Carolina compounds this difficulty
because of the lush vegetal cover. That necessitates making special use of
every available clue possible to visually sample the soil as well as to
intelligently eliminate areas where the probability of human occupation is

The study of Kiawah Island was undertaken by a two man team on foot inspecting
visually high probability areas for the remains of human occupation. Careful
attention was paid to the geologic history of the island to assist in giving
special attention to areas that have the greatest antiquity rather than areas
that only recently have formed. Road cuts, hog rooting, game trails, erosional
cuts, etc., were sought out by the investigators enabling a view of the soil
whenever possible. Areas with a high probability of containing a site were
investigated by means of test pitting or manually excavating test trenches.

Special emphasis was also placed on information provided by local informants.
During the entire study period archival research in the South Carolina
Archives was undertaken for the purpose of locating and interpreting other
archaeological remains on the island.

Once the archaeological site was located a surface collection was taken. This
provided the study with material from which the site chronology was worked out
and also provided some information concerning the intensity of the occupation.
Stratigraphic information was obtained when necessary by excavating a test
square. The site was recorded on a standard site sheet and assigned a site
number following the Smithsonian System currently used by most archaeologists.
Photographs were taken as needed. In the laboratory the specimens were
cleaned, labeled, and cataloged prior to classification and analysis.

[Note: See document for additional pages of site descriptions,
recommendations, and references]

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