Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Digging in: Research team looks for clues on Indian life at Tuckasee King

Digging in
Research team looks for clues on Indian life at Tuckasee King

By Patrick Donahue

An afternoon by the river was a day of work for a team of researchers at Tuckasee King on Thursday.

Under the leadership of Dr. Charles Cobb, a team from the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology conducted a series of test digs at Tuckasee King as they continue their research into the lives of Colonial-era Indians.

The South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology received a grant from the National Science Foundation to research the migration of Native Americans in the 1600s and 1700s as those Indians traveled to Charleston, S.C., to engage in trade. The goods they traded mostly were deer skins, being shipped out of Charleston to Europe.

What the team is hoping to uncover is how trade affected the mass migrations of Indians to the Lowcountry and how the influx of Europeans may have changed Indian ways and culture.

“To us, it’s really important, because it’s not in the history books,” said Dr. Christian DePratter, a USC archaeologist. “There’s not enough documentation as to what they were and on their everyday life.”

The Indians moving through the area included the Uchee from Tennessee and the Chickasaw from Mississippi.

“There was a huge swath of Native Americans,” Dr. Cobb said.

The project is in its second year, and Cobb envisions it as a long-term endeavor. Their trip to Tuckasee King on Thursday was their first foray across the Savannah River from the Palmetto State into the Peach State. They have conducted digs at Stokes Bluff.

“This is our second field search in what’s probably a 12-15-year project to look up and down the river,” Dr. DePratter said.

What Dr. Cobb and his team have found are sites dating back to the 1700s. They were having lunch in Springfield one day and noticed the name Tuckasee King. That got them to thinking about that site being a potential home to Indians.

“We said, ‘that’s an Indian name,’ and said, ‘we’ve got to find out,’” Cobb noted.

Tuckasee, he said, is the Uchee name for chief.

The team conducted 15 shovel tests at the Tuckasee King landing. Each individual dig was a square of 50 centimeters, or about 20 inches.
“We’re looking for Indian pottery,” said Joseph Johnson, a senior archaeology major at USC.

And what they’ve found, mostly quarter-sized pieces, leads them to believe they selected the right location for a dig.

“Now, we’re pretty sure,” Dr. Cobb said. “The ceramics we’re finding are identical to those on the other side of the river.”

“It’s enough to tell us there was a settlement here, and at least we know there was something here from that period,” Dr. DePratter said.

Dr. DePratter said the “tribes” were breaking down and re-forming as they migrated and as they were defeated by other groups of Indians.

The area at Tuckasee King is similar to a site upriver on the South Carolina side, with a high bluff allowing for views up and down the river. It’s a strategic spot, “for defensive purposes as much as anything,” Dr. Cobb said. “This is an incredibly important trade route.”

Thursday’s dig was a one-day visit, but Cobb and his crew hope to return to Effingham for a longer stay and will talk with county officials about doing something more extensive in the future.

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