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Digging into archaelogical field school
State DNR completes mission on Ossabaw
A University of Georgia field school student demonstrates the use of a ground-penetrating radar to public hands-on archaeology trip participants. - photo by Photo by Charlie Miller/Georgia DNR

The Historic Preservation Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and professor Victor Thompson of the University of Georgia recently completed a joint five-week archaeological field school on Ossabaw Island.

This year’s work focused on a site adjacent to Newell Creek at the south end of the island, an area that has been occupied by humans for at least 3,000 years. The site, which contains the remnants of a prehistoric village, an antebellum plantation and the 1930s home of a tenant farmer, is rapidly eroding into the creek.

The investigations centered on the eroding bluff edge to collect information and artifacts before they were lost. Findings include brick foundations, prehistoric pottery, 19th-century ceramics, prehistoric fire pits, and rare tin glazed pottery called majolica.

The majolica dates to the late 1500s and likely indicates contact with the Spanish missionaries who were the first Europeans to settle on the Georgia barrier islands. Archaeologists utilized cutting-edge technology including ground-penetrating radar, a Real Time Kinematic GPS, and a drone to take aerial photos.

Two members of the Muscogee Creek Nation visited the field school from Oklahoma to observe the excavations.

This was the first time members of the Muscogee Creek Nation had traveled to the island.

The joint field school was designed to balance the research concerns of the university with DNR’s land management needs. Partnering with universities provides DNR with additional expertise and resources to better manage state lands. The field school will resume next summer with more work at the Newell Creek site coupled with additional investigations on the island.

Ossabaw Island is a 26,000-acre undeveloped barrier island on the Atlantic Ocean, owned by the state and located in Chatham County. Accessible only by boat, the island is Georgia’s first Heritage Preserve, which was set aside by Executive Order for natural, scientific, and cultural study.

DNR’s prime mission for the island is research, education, and for environmentally-sound preservation, conservation, and management of the island’s ecosystem.