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Sewee Shell Ring

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Sewee Mound; Old Fort
2200–1000 BCE, Early Woodland. Salt Pond Rd. (off Doar Rd.), Francis Marion National Forest.

The Sewee Shell Ring is the northernmost known member of a group of more or less doughnut-shaped, prehistoric middens occurring along the Atlantic Coast from Florida to South Carolina. It is one of South Carolina’s few well-preserved, visible, and publicly accessible traces of aboriginal occupation of its territory prior to European colonization. Most of the evidence of that occupation is known only from excavation. About twenty such rings have been identified on South Carolina’s coastal plain, all located along tidal creeks. They range from about 130 to about 200 feet in diameter and up to ten feet in height. The middens were built over somewhat long periods of time by the systematic, possibly even planned, accumulation of dietary refuse (chiefly the shells of various mollusks).

The Sewee Shell Ring is composed mainly of oyster shells. Its surviving portion rises to about ten feet and has an approximate diameter of just under 150 feet. Much of its southeastern quadrant has been eroded. Near the Sewee Shell Ring lies a mound, composed exclusively of oyster shells, about 35 feet in diameter. William Edwards, who studied the Sewee Shell Ring in 1965 without publishing his findings, concluded that it had probably been used as a fish trap. In a 1985 study, Michael B. Trinkley rejected that conclusion after examining not only the ring itself but also its broader cultural context. Trinkley concluded that structures like the Sewee Shell Ring had been centers for group activities within a broader settlement pattern. He further speculated that “fundamentally, the circular shape of the shell rings may be related to the egalitarian nature of early Woodland societies, where a cluster of habitations would promote community or social interaction.” Some archaeologists have supposed a ceremonial function for certain of the southeastern coastal shell rings.

The Sewee Shell Ring is part of the Francis Marion National Forest and can be accessed by a one-mile, self-guided interpretive trail.

References

Hemmings, Thomas. “Sewee Mound,” Charleston County, South Carolina. National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination Form, 1970. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.

Trinkley, Michael B. “The Form and Function of South Carolina’s Early Woodland Shell Rings.” In Structure and Process in Southeastern Archaeology, 102-118. Edited by Roy S. Dickens, Jr., and H. Trawick Ward. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1985.

U.S. Forest Service. “Sewee Shell Ring Interpretive Trail.” U.S. Department of Agriculture. Accessed October 5, 2015. http://www.fs.usda.gov/.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Alfred Willis
Coordinator: 
Alfred Willis
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Data

Citation

Alfred Willis, "Sewee Shell Ring", [Awendaw, South Carolina], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/SC-01-019-0008.

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