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College of Arts & Sciences
Maritime Research Division

Cow bone from the Edisto Island site

Paleontologist's Panel

SC State Museum and MRD collaborate on Edisto Island site visit

       In the last issue I wrote about a skeleton that was dug up from pluff mud that was exposed on the beach at Edisto. Unfortunately, the bones were removed by a beachcomber, without a careful eye to determine if the site represented an archaeological context, and exactly how the bones came to be where they occurred is unknown. However, we were able to determine that the pile of bones represented at least two individuals of different ages, and that the bones belong to domesticated cattle. Carbon dating of one of the arm bones from an adult individual yielded a date of 150 years, so the animals died ca. 1865-70. Correlating the site with historic records, we think the bones represent the livestock of someone who lived in or near the Edingsville community (ca. 1825-1893). Perhaps they belonged to a pregnant female, or a female and her newborn calf, which died after getting stuck in the mud. An alternative interpretation is that the site represents a dump where multiple animals were thrown together.

A chance to learn more about the site came this past February, when we received an email from Ashby Gale (formerly Edisto Beach State Park) informing us of another skeleton (probably cow) exposed from the pluff mud. After getting permission to cross private property to reach the beach, Nate Fulmer, Jessica Irwin, and I, along with Johanna Rivera-Diaz and Emily Schwalbe (Warren Lasch Conservation Center), Zach Gaza (CofC student and MRD Intern), Jim Knight (formerly SC State Museum), and Ashby went to the site to document and excavate the skeleton. Unfortunately, in the short amount of time between learning about the skeleton and going to the site to investigate, we had missed our opportunity to recover archaeological data. Several hours-worth of probing and digging test pits yielded a single bird bone, but the skeleton we came for was gone, likely carried away by beachcombers. Luckily, we did recover a few more pieces from the skeleton that was found last year, and Ashby passed along a horse tooth that was found nearby (collected but reported by visitors to the beach). That puts the number of species that could be related to the Eddingsville community at three (bird, horse, cow), and number of individual animals at five (including three cows). However, many questions remain, and the changing topography of the beach will probably result in more material being exposed. Nate has more on some of our observations from that day in this issue.

If you happen to be walking along the beach (or along a river bank, or diving on a river bottom) and you find associated remains, skeletons, embedded bones, etc. report them as soon as possible so that researchers can conduct site investigations and recover specimens (fossil or modern bones). Doing so will ensure that important specimens and data aren’t lost and, more importantly, people learn about the ancient and not-so-ancient animals and cultures that are part of South Carolina’s history.