Where to find it in South Carolina

By Holly Floyd

South Carolina has been home to people for thousands of years and traces of those early days can still be found throughout the state. Below we will introduce you to just a few places you can find examples of South Carolina’s past.

Are you interested in Native American, European, or African history in the early days of Colonial American? Look no further than Charles Towne Landing in modern Charleston.  Founded in 1670 as one of the first permanent settlements in North America, archaeologists have been digging around the Charles Towne Landing since 1967. The site contains Native American campsites and villages, structures and artifacts from European settlement, and the remains of homes of enslaved African Americans. The Revolutionary War is also represented with forts and six working cannons, which are fired on the first Saturday of every month. Walking through this colonial site gives a glimpse into South Carolina’s multicultural past. During certain times of the year, volunteers are welcome to participate in archaeological programs and digs throughout the site.


If you’re looking for more about colonial South Carolina, Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site is only a short drive from Charles Towne Landing. It was founded in 1697 but was wiped out near the beginning of the Revolutionary War.  St. George’s Anglican Church bell tower still stands as one of the most well-preserved oyster shell structures in the area. During excavations, archaeologists are available on site to answer questions and present discoveries. All are welcome to watch the archaeologists unearth history.


Traveling farther south along South Carolina’s coast brings you to Santa Elena, found on modern-day Parris Island in Beaufort County. At this location in 1562, the French established Charlesfort, but abandoned less than a year later. The Spanish, eager to stake their claim created Santa Elena in 1566, building on the abandoned French fort site. Later, in 1586, Spain left the area and it was once again occupied by the French. The site was first excavated in the 1850s,  but due to the fact there were no written Spanish records about the site, it was thought to have been occupied only by the French. It wasn’t until decades later after further archaeological and historical investigation that researchers realized Santa Elena represented a duel occupation.


The final site for this post delves deep into the state’s past - the Topper Archaeological Site in Allendale County. Excavations at this site began in the 1980s headed by Dr. Albert Goodyear from University of South Carolina’s South Carolina Institute of Anthropology and Archaeology.  Topper is a well-established Paleoindian site with artifacts and tools dating back over 13,000 years. However, it has also created controversy in the archaeological world due to the presence of artifacts that some researchers are attributing to the Pre-Clovis era. Previously, it was thought that the Clovis people were the first Native Americans to arrive in North and South America around 13,000 years ago. However, archaeologists began finding tools that seemed to date from before this time, meaning either the Clovis people were not the first to arrive on this continent, or they arrived much earlier than first thought. Some of the tools found at Topper have been dated to 20,000 years old or older. Not all archaeologists agree with these discoveries, so research continues to be done. An exhibit about the site, developed and installed by SCAPOD, features a wide range of artifacts and can be seen at the University of South Carolina Salkehatchie Library.  


South Carolina’s land has provided much evidence of the state’s past, while at the same time, raising questions questions for future research. The sites featured in this post are a small fraction of the cultural history that has shaped the state.