Archeologists use remote sensing to map the history of Parris Island

map graphic with words

thompsonanddepratter.jpgAfter discovering the location of an elusive Spanish fort on present-day Parris Island in Beaufort County, South Carolina, archaeologists are working to map the surrounding area to paint a picture of what life was like during various occupations of Santa Elena, the once capital of Spanish La Florida.

In 2016, University of South Carolina archaeologist Chester DePratter and Victor Thompson, an archaeologist from the University of Georgia, pinpointed fort San Marcos at Santa Elena, founded in 1577 by Pedro Menendez Marquez, the governor of Spanish La Florida.

Archaeologists began excavating the remains of the Charlesfort and Santa Elena site in 1979, but they have never had a good map of the settlement. In a recent paper published in the journal, “Remote Sensing,” DePratter and Thompson discuss how they used remote sensing technology to map the various significant occupations of the site spanning 4,000 years  including those of Native Americans, French, Spanish, plantation owners, Freedmen, and  World War I era U.S. Marine Corps. 

“There are few sites in the country that afford the kind of window into the past, such as we have at Santa Elena,” says Thompson, who directs UGA’s Center for Archaeological Sciences.  “The conditions at Santa Elena were just ideal for this type of remote sensing survey. We simply could not ask for better circumstances.”

Press accounts note that:

circular features in the northern portion of the site dating to the Late Archaic/Early Woodland period of Native American prehistory, 2750-1360 BC. are roughly the same diameter of “shell rings” of the region and possibly represent a  “Stallings period Circular Village”.

Truly stunning to consider a window this deep into the past, right here in the Southeast. Great work by Thompson and DePratter, with assistance from our very own UGA archaeology field school

Image: Thompson (left) and DePratter with remote sensing technology