Tag Archives: Archaeology of Coastal Georgia

Shell Ring Complex, Circa 2170 BC, Sapelo Island

Evidence of the earliest known people in Georgia can be found on Sapelo Island in the form of the Sapelo Shell Ring Complex. Shell rings are also known as middens. Three separate doughnut-shaped mounds rise up to 20 feet above the tide line. Formed from oyster, clam, mussel, and conch shells, the largest ring is nearly 255 feet in diameter.

As landmarks go, they’re almost imperceptible, blending harmoniously into the surrounding maritime forest. But these ancient trash piles are keys to understanding early habitation on the Sea Islands. They’ve been documented in South Carolina and Florida, as well. Carbon dating has placed their construction beginning around 2170 BC, but their massive size is the result of successive generations of Late Archaic people.

While it was initially believed that the rings were built all at once, like later Mississippian mounds, present research indicates that they were never intended to be monumental structures but simply grew as people discarded trash behind their circular villages. These early settlers likely understood that they afforded protection to their villages as they grew in size.

Due to the incursion of the maritime forest, it’s difficult to envision these mounds as separate monuments but it’s obvious that they created a new topography. Research is ongoing.



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Filed under -MCINTOSH COUNTY, Sapelo Island GA

Ruins of Chocolate Plantation, Sapelo Island

Chocolate is a collection of tabby ruins, begun circa 1810, constructed by enslaved people on Sapelo Island. Most of the structures are in a state of very bad disrepair; the 1831 barn on the Mud River, restored in the 1920s, is falling to ruin, as well. The best description I’ve been able to find about the area is from archaeologists Ray Crook’s essay “The Living Space of Enslaved Geechee on Sapelo Island”, published in the March 2008 newsletter of the African Diaspora Archaeology Network: During the late 1790s, the Chocolate tract was farmed by Lewis Harrington with the labor of 68 slaves. In 1802 that property became jointly owned by Edward Swarbreck and Thomas Spalding, who leased out at least a portion of the tract until 1808. Swarbreck, a Danish sea merchant with Caribbean connections who traded in cotton and other commodities, including slaves, then directed his attention to Chocolate. His plantation layout followed a familiar and very formal design…. The Big House, built of tabby, overlooked the Mud River and expansive salt marshes. His residence was flanked by outbuildings and other support structures. Two parallel rows of slave quarters, spaced some 10m apart and separated by a broad open area 50m across, were constructed behind the Big House. Vast agricultural fields extended to the north and south. Evidence of at least nine slave quarters, typically tabby duplexes with central chimneys and finished tabby floors, each side measuring about 4.3m by 6.1m, survives today as ruins and archaeological features at Chocolate. These represent an enslaved population of some 70 to 100 people distributed among at least 18 households…

Mud River at Chocolate

Main House or Overseer’s House Ruins

The tabby barn was restored in the 1920s by automobile magnate Howard Coffin.

Tabby Barn (East Facade)

Tabby Barn (West Facade)

Tabby Barn (Interior)

Cotton House

Cotton House

Cotton House

Smoke House

Unidentified Ruins

Unidentified Ruins

Slave House







Filed under -MCINTOSH COUNTY, Sapelo Island GA

Frederica River, St. Simons Island

This is the view of the Frederica River from the fort.

National Register of Historic Places


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Filed under -GLYNN COUNTY, Frederica GA, St. Simons Island GA