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Georgia Bight

The Midatlantic Coastal Plain has been occupied by various groups since at least 10,000 BC, based on the presence of Paleoindian stone tools. Based on changes in the coastline (the general rise in ocean levels), it is unlikely that these groups were coastal (Figure 1.8). Because of the rise in ocean levels, it is likely that any evidence

A view from St. Catherine’s Island in the Georgia Bight region. Modified from an image created by William D. Bone, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution- Share Alike

FIGURE 1.8 A view from St. Catherine’s Island in the Georgia Bight region. Modified from an image created by William D. Bone, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution- Share Alike.

of coastal occupation is now submerged (Reitz 1988). During the Pleistocene, it is possible that the estuaries along the tidal zone were used, although their exact location is unknown. Estuaries are not stable environments, and so their use in deep time is unclear.

By the time of the Early and Middle Archaic periods (between 8500 and 2500 bc), climate and coastlines were relatively stable. Early Archaic tools and sites have been found in association with the upper coast plain and major rivers. Middle Archaic sites are also found in association with minor river systems. There are minimal indications of the use of the nearby islands during this period.

Late Archaic sites (2500—1000 bc) sites are often found in the lower estuaries. These also include ceramics and are found on both the mainland and the barrier islands. Late Archaic sites are also found associated with rivers. The common denominator in the site locations is some type of access (either direct or nearby) to marine resources. Typical Late Archaic tidewater zone sites are circular rings of shell and linear shell middens, but some nonshell midden sites have also been found. Subsistence, measured by archaeological remains, seems to have been based on marine fishes with terrestrial animals making up only a very small portion of the assemblages. Plants identified include pine, red cedar, hickory oak, hackberry, blackberry, buckthorn, grape, and mustards (Marrinan 1975; Trinkley 1976). Altogether, this indicates multiseason usage of the sites (Reitz 1988).

The peoples inhabiting the Georgia coast region went through a great amount of social and economic changes throughout time. Until around 2200 bc, groups were foraging, relying on both marine and terrestrial resources. A transition to preagrarian lifeways occurred between 2200 bc and ad 1150. This was followed by a mixed economy consisting of both hunting and gathering and agricultural adaptations until contact at around ad 1550 (Larsen 1981: 422).

The Early Woodland occupations (1000—500 bc) are found on the coastal plain as well as the tidewater areas of the mainland. In South Carolina, there are a high number of coastal sites associated with this period as well. Other sites are located in the lower reaches of the estuaries and tidewater mainland of Georgia and South carolina. Reitz (1988) suggests that the site locations in this period suggest that ocean levels may have dropped significantly. In some locations during this period, deer make up a significant proportion of the faunal assemblage with marine resources making up a much smaller portion. Those that are present, however, indicate multiseason usage of the site.

The Middle Woodland dates to between 500 bc and ad 700. These sites are found along creeks as well as along the coastal plain and tidewater zone based on ceramics found at the sites. In some cases, mainland stone was transported to the barrier islands, and island shells are often found on the mainland. Faunal assemblages dating to this period tend to have more marine resources, with deer composing smaller percentages (Reitz 1988).

The Late Woodland period (ad 700—1000) is typified by both small and large sites along the rivers and tidal zones. Late Woodland ceramics have also been found on river bluffs as well. The barrier islands were also utilized during this period.

Deer were found in the faunal assemblages at some sites but are completely absent from others. Maize has been found in the form of cob fragments in the Mattassee Lake project area, but this feature contained ceramics that may have been deposited during the Mississippian period and so may represent an intrusive element from a later time.

Beginning in the Mississippian period, we see evidence of domesticated crops and construction of large mounds. There is a general site hierarchy during this period, with a large primary center, small secondary centers, and tertiary sites. This may be similar to the political structure visible during the Mississippian period in the American Bottom, with the secondary and tertiary centers providing labor and economic support to the main center. Reitz (1988) notes that there may be two political regions: the Savannah region (from St. Helena to St. Catherine’s Island) and the Altamaha region (from St. Catherine’s Sound to the Satilla River) (Crook 1978).

This is a period of large-scale social change with the introduction of agriculture. Larsen and others (e.g., Hutchinson and Larsen 1988; Hutchinson et al. 1998; Larsen 1981; 1983; Ruff et al. 1983) have been instrumental in the use of human remains from this region as social indicators of subsistence change.

In general, this area shows increasing social complexity through time. Some of the residence patterns may be indicative of social restriction: there may have been social or political structures in place with some individuals able to move more freely into some subsistence zones than others (Reitz 1988: 152). Multiseasonal occupation is evident at many sites. The influence of agriculture in increasing social complexity is a difficult analytical package to unwrap. As Reitz notes, there is no evidence that population pressure was a factor in the expansion away from the coastal plain. There is also no evidence that estuarine resources were not used after cultivation began. Mississippian sites are larger, and the presence of a site hierarchy is suggestive of increased social stratification. Based on biological evidence, maize was a part of the diet (Larsen et al. 1992), but the role it played is unclear.

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