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Lonnie William Franklin, MA

University of Leicester

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The South Carolina Coastal Plain features an extraordinary wetland area called Carolina
Bays, a seemingly endless band of similarly-shaped shallow ponds, swamps, and lakes.
With a mysterious and unresolved origin, attributed to everything from beaver ponds to
meteors, they occur not just in South Carolina but along most of the eastern seaboard of
the United States. There are perhaps one-half million of them in a narrow discontinuous
band from Florida to Maryland, varying greatly in size but all if them roughly oval
shaped and oriented with an axis NW to SE ( Kovacik and Winberry, 1989).

Evidently formed from 30,000 to over 100,000 years ago (Outreach Program of the
Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, 2006), these similarly shaped shallow ponds and
swamps have been called "islands of biodiversity" that are among the richest in species
diversity found anywhere in the world (Sharitz, 2003). Previous research has established
that mammoth, large saber toothed cats, giant ground sloth and other extinct Pleistocene
mammals were residents of the bays at the time when early man arrived in the Americas
(Howard ,1997).

There are a number of theories concerning how and when early man arrived in the
Americas (Scarre, 2005). One of the most persistent is that of the earliest Paleoindians
arriving in the Americas as nomadic big-game hunters unwittingly following the great
herds of animals like mammoth across Beringia, into the new world, at the end of the
Wisconsin glaciation (Fagan, 2005). This journey would no doubt have been cold and
arduous, between two of the largest ice sheets that ever existed (Scarre, 2005), with
hunger or death a constant specter.

However early man found his way to the Americas, they found the way to South
Carolina very early on (Bonnischen, 2004), and would surely have found South Carolina
very accommodating. They must have found the bays almost endless resources
particularly appealing.

South Carolina’s climate is (and was 10,000 years ago) humid and subtropical, basically
warm, with usually reliable moderate rainfall (Kovacik and Winberry, 1989). The warm
providing environment of the Carolina Bays would seem to be the “promised land” to

subsistence hunter-gatherer nomads. Year long warm weather, all their needs provided
to them, one bay after another after another; virtually a Holocene-era buffet line.
Seemingly no end to nature’s largesse.

Surely, early man would have exploited the bay’s resources, but could the wealth of the
bays lure the hunters into settling down?

Although serious archaeology in the area has been virtually nonexistent, the enormous
number of artifacts recovered from the area by “collectors” – including Clovis points - is
convincing that the bays were extensively settled or used, from the earliest times. But,
the overwhelming number of the bays and difficulty of on-ground survey creates
considerable difficulty in establishing details.

Can the problems posed by the bay area geography be overcome? Can settlement or use
of Carolina Bays be determined from aerial photography (and confirmed by ground
truthing, on-ground survey.

Is this a question worth asking? Is this an appropriate project for landscape survey?

The scale of the bay area is overwhelming to most archaeological projects. The potential
increase in survey area made available by aerial reconnaissance and photography brings
the bay area size into a feasible, economically achievable prospect.

Is there a site? Although called “Carolina Bays,” the phenomenon occurs over an area
several hundred kilometers long and about 100 kilometers wide, consisting of perhaps a
half-million bays.

Much of this “site” includes the most heavily developed regions of the east coast and
much of the “bay” area has been obliterated by agriculture and real estate development.

Since the ecology of the area is similar throughout and almost continuous, the entire
region where bays or remnants can be observed needs to be considered as the “site.” The
survey area, for preconsideration of methodology, should be considered to contain an
almost continuous scatter of potentially recoverable artifacts of varying density.

Samples, however, will of necessity have to be selected from areas where extant bays
are accessible, necessitating a combination of probabilistic and purposive sampling

Satellite photography can first be used to define the research area, gain an overview,
and narrow the search area to the larger scale areas still available for research, and the
more feasible smaller scaled areas for aerial photography and sampling. The resolution
of satellite photography isn’t good enough to differentiate between bays and smaller
scale ground-disturbance perhaps caused by human activity, but can provide us with a
good “birds-eye” overview.

Satellite photography would of course be vertical and can be used to associate lower
level photography with maps.

Satellite photo of the Carolina Bays

GIS representation, Carolina Bays

Infrared Photo of Carolina Bays

Photos courtesy of Clemson University

GIS can be used to develop maps to connect the satellite overview to the ground,
coordinate with aerial photography, and later to plot artifact distribution patterns. One of
the benefits of computerized geographic information systems is the ability to “layer”
different data, and select data by attributes. This allows the viewer to view single data
levels without the distraction of information irrelevant to the task at hand. In this case, I
envision great benefit to be able to remove all modern data from the map and see what
the early settlers might have seen, to be able to remove the data from the unoccupied

bays and/or bay areas and more easily see the connections or patterns between the ones
that remain.

Aerial photography (lower level) for higher resolution of areas can be used to perhaps
identify settlement or use sites, and designate areas for ground survey

Oblique aerial photography in this area would probably reveal more ground features and
would be best during midwinter when foliage is lowest.

Mid morning and mid afternoon photography reveals more subtlety due to shadowing.
Local contacts can alert us to the opportunity of fields being plowed, allowing us
unobstructed view of the ground. Infrared photography has the potential to show us
changes in vegetation (Renfrew and Bahn 2004).

Aerial photograph of Carolina Bays in the proposed survey area, showing clearly the
“palimpsest” of human activity over the landscape. Oblique angle aerial photo by Stoney
Truett and David Allen Jr.

Note the alignment of the bays and the defining rim. In the lower center of the picture
is a bay with a ditched drain inserted prior to WWII and the enactment of stringent
“wetland” laws. Modern era plow marks are clearly visible, as well as intriguing
darkened areas near many of the “bays,” and others located nearby but away from the

Preliminary reconnaissance survey of the rims and the darkened areas has revealed
numerous artifacts, including Clovis-era points, which have been left in situ.

A sampling strategy should be designed to allow every part of the surveyed population
as much as possible, an equal chance of being selected, so that way so that the results
can be reasonably inferred to apply to the areas that were not sampled (Renfrew and
Bahn, 2004).

Although one could say that the selection process from photography, identifying areas
that agriculture and development has left available, has already “randomly sampled” the
area. Nevertheless, due to the nature of the area: limited access to all areas, bays that
would have been ponds 4,000 years ago but have since been drained and plowed, and
areas that have been removed from availability by development; I feel that we must
resort to purposive sampling.

“Look on the rims, boy. That’s where you’ll find the stuff,” one of my pot-hunter
informants, a large landowner has told me. Although I consider that particular bit of
advice to be both a sampling problem, and attributable to visibility – in principle, it is
good advice. First and foremost, it is best to find something.

First, selection from the air of (relatively undisturbed) sites that indicate human use by
color change, sharp tonal changes, or visible patterns.

I propose that Simple random sampling of the purposively preselected available areas
would then be used to select individual Carolina Bays for ground survey. Not
methodologically satisfying but practical considering the nature of the area and the
probability that any existing artifacts will be both rare and clustered.

I propose that the catchment area and the bay are synonymous, since the “bays” are
pretty much continuous, even overlapping one another, but of considerably varying size,
Any refinement of the definition of “bay” and “catchment area” will have to be
determined after upon initial review of the selected sites. This definition will then be
extended to the areas not selected.

This is of course a multi-stage examination, and flexibility will have to be maintained

throughout the process.

Stratified random sampling would be used on the ground due to the varied topographic
features of the bay area.

No underwater research is proposed, but drained bays will be examined throughout with
any artifacts found in the formerly flooded area separately accounted for. A thick peat
bottom has been noted for some of the bays and considering the “bog bodies” and
preserved wood finds in other areas of the word, that prospect raises some interesting
possibilities. For the time being however, the limitations of this examination will have
to postpone that exciting prospect.

A 5m spacing of field walkers increases the size of the sample of material and increases
the chance of even very small scatters being detected (LA 4.9). Considering the
likelihood that the number of people occupying the area would have been small, I would
like to increase the odds of finding as many artifacts as possible by having intensive

Pre-printed record sheets will be provided to all field walkers, with description boxes for
the commonly found lithics as identified by prior archaeology nearby. The unidentified
or unique items are to be bagged separately. Since the possibility of a unique or very
early-man find is possible, the walkers will be trained to mark the find spot with a flag
and notify the supervising archaeologist. Clovis has been found in this area, and pre-
Clovis artifacts have been located nearby (Goodyear, 2003).

Since the objective of this survey is to be able to determine if settlement or use of the
bays can be detected remotely, any artifacts that potentially establish the link between
the ground and the air need to be recovered, classified, and cataloged. Indeed, with the
rapid development of the bays area, the artifacts need to be recovered and curated so that
future archaeologist will have access to the recovered assemblages before they are lost

Archaeologists have a duty, both to colleagues and to the general public to explain what
they are doing and why (Renfrew and Bahn, 2004).

In spite of the criticism of the obstacles and limitations of pedestrian survey preventing a
“true” picture of past settlement patterns: man made disturbances, dense vegetation
cover, erosion, poor preservation of surface finds, etc., arguments deriding pedestrian
survey are irrelevant to the purpose of this study. Since the object of this investigation is
simply to determine if settlement or use can be remotely determined, it is my opinion
that the recovery of significant artifacts in conjunction with the aerial observation of
human activity is determinant.

One of the most important surface-find determinations that have been recently made of
significance to this study is that there is little lateral displacement of artifacts due to
plowing. Displacement seems to be a problem only on slopes where there is significant
soil creep (Haselgrove, Millett and Smith citing Gingell, 1980). Since the bay area is
virtually flat throughout, this finding adds confidence that surface finds are associated
with activity at that location.

In the absence of lithics or other determining tangible artifacts, I propose to use

appropriate geoprospection methods to establish the link between human activity on the
ground and whatever phenomena is observable from the air.

Although prior research has established varying degrees of confidence between different
geoprospection methods and data concerning past activity (LA 6.28), a combination of
complementary methods no doubt would be more reliable. Finding the right
combination is the challenge.

Resistivity survey is best suited for discovery of discrete archaeological features (LA,
6.11 -16), and would not seem the best choice for a boggy area.

Magnetic susceptibility has been used very successfully to establish intense human
activity in an area’s soil. It has been useful over broad areas to identify “multi-modal
activity areas” not associated with structures or artifact scatters (LA 6.21).

An identified shortcoming of magnetic susceptibility is the inability to identify specific

uses of an area, but since that is not one of the objectives of this exercise, it presents no
problem. Therefore, magnetic susceptibility would appear to be an appropriate choice
for the identification of habitation/use sites identified with the bays, where wood and
bone is not likely to be preserved, and lithic artifacts are not discovered. Potentially,
podsolization and gleying could be a problem (LA 6.19).

Soil phosphate survey, based on the fact that phosphorous in the soil is redistributed due
to human and animal feces, bone, etc.(LA 10.05), would probably not be effective since
animal activity would have been predominant. Furthermore, the soil around the bays is
highly acidic and ph12 is highly soluble in acidic soils (LA 6.24).

The resolution of the challenge will to be to remain flexible during the phases of the
survey and discover what combination works best in the environment.

Excavation is not planned for this survey, but all possibilities should be considered.

To accomplish the objective of this survey, it is not necessary to further analyze any
surface found artifacts; however, after any artifacts that might be found are collected, it

would prove useful to future research and regional comparison to analyze and classify
the artifacts. Factor analysis would be appropriate to look for variation among the
artifact types within an assemblage. Cluster analysis could be used to identify
similarities and differences among complete assemblages. The assemblages could then
more easily be referenced and compared within the bay area, adjoining areas, and

Archaeology in the area has been discouraged previously for numerous reasons:
inaccessibly, lack of visibility, some of the most stringent “wetland’ laws in the country
restricting excavation, and the overwhelming size of the area. Furthermore, researchers
have believed that early human activity in the Southeast concentrated on the coast and
along rivers and streams or “tethered” to seasonal foraging between resources (Fagan,
2005). Previous researchers have perhaps simply concentrated their limited resources in
those areas.

Recently however, researchers have found evidence of human settlement from at least
10,000 years ago around Flamingo Bay on the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) 310-
square-mile Savannah River Site near Aiken (Savannah River Ecology Laboratory news
release January, 1996).

The fact that early man was in the area has already been established (Goodyear, 2005).
The Paleoindian-era climate of the bays microenvironment has previously been
determined (Sharitz, 2003). All of this previous research, although not directed
specifically toward early man and the bays, establishes that man had the opportunity
and the incentive to end his wandering ways.

What remains is the purpose of this study. Did they? What remains is the object of
landscape survey, to define the total environment in which human activity took place,
the physical location of sites, the source of resources, the basis for the nature of a
culture, of long term change in a region.


Bonniscen, R., et al., 2004. Evidence of Pre-Clovis Sites in the Eastern United States.
In Paleoindianamerican Origins: Beyond Clovis. Texas: Texas A&M University Press.

Fagan, B.M.,2005. Ancient North America. London: Thames and Hudson.

Goodyear, A., and Steffy, K., 2003. Evidence of a Clovis Occupation at the Topper Site,
38AL23, Current Research in the Pleistocene Vol. 20:23-25. Texas: A&M University.

Haselgrove, C., Millett, M., and Smith, I. 1985. Archaeology from the Ploughsoil.
Midsomer Norton: Bookcraft.

Howard, G.A., 1997. The Carolina Bays. http://www.georgehoward.net/cbays.htm.

[Accessed 13 March 2006]

Kovacik, C.F., and Winberry, J.J., 1989. South Carolina: The Making of a Landscape.
Columbia, S.C., USA: University of South Carolina Press.

LA, Landscape Archaeology, Module 1. Leicester:

School of Archaeology and Ancient History, University of Leicester.

Outreach Program of the Savannah River Laboratory,

University of Georgia.
[Accessed 13 March 2006]

Renfrew, C., and Bahn, P., 2004. Archaeology, Theories, Methods, and Practice.
Thames & Hudson.

Savannah River Ecology Laboratory. http://www.uga.edu/srel/inland.html.

[Accessed 13 March 2006]

Scarre, C., 2005. The Human Past, World Prehistory and the Development of Human
Societies. London: Thames & Hudson.

Shartz, R.R., 2003, Carolina Bay Wetlands: Unique Habitats of the Southeastern United
States. Aiken, S.C., USA: Department of Plant Biology, University of Georgia and
Savannah River Ecology Laboratory.

Further Reading, not cited in the text, but made an important contribution to this work:

Drennan, R.D., 1996. Statistics for Archaeologists, A Commonsense Approach.

New York:
Plenum Press

Haselgrove, C., Millett, M., and Smith, I., 1985. Archaeology from the Ploughsoil.
Midsomer Norton:

Ormsby, T., Napoleon, E., Burke, R., Groessl, C., Feaster, L., 2004.
Getting to Know ArGis desktop.
Redlands, California, USA:
Esri Press

Schiffer, M.B., Sullivan, A.P., and Klinger, T., 1977. The design of archaeological
surveys. World Archaeology, Volume 10, No.1