A Shelter from the Storm: Prehistoric Potsherds Unearthed on the Enoree

In the forested acres of South Carolina’s Piedmont vast gullies scar the landscape, evidence of an era when European settlers all but eradicated the native woodlands in favor of planting cotton. Ultimately the soils from the soft slopes—nutrient-depleted from overfarming and with nothing left to hold them in place—washed unchecked into the rivers, leaving the deeply eroded ravines.

And still, one small protected pocket of earth managed to cling to its 3000-year-old treasure.

Surveyors find arch siteArchaeologists skirting one such ravine to survey a timber sale on the Enoree Ranger District happened upon a stone outcrop—the perfect spot to shelter from a storm—and in the fine soil beneath it found sherds of prehistoric pottery undisturbed by the ages.

“These rock overhangs are scarce on the district or in the Piedmont in general," said Enoree District Archaeologist Mike Harmon. "There are only four I know of: Flanagan’s Rock on the Enoree River (Enoree means “river of grapes” in an Indian dialect); Neal Shoals On the Broad River; Slippery Rock, which is on a small stream; and now this one beside these drains that run into the Enoree."

From the artifacts preserved at the new site, Harmon estimates that use of the shelter dates to the prehistoric Indians of the area.


Archaeologist examining shard“The pottery found here indicates that it’s either from the Woodland or Mississippian periods, so that puts it about 1000 to 3000 years old,” he said. Most of what we find on the district is older than what people think. They talk about arrowheads and spear points being a couple of hundred years old, most of it’s thousands of years old.“

Pottery was first developed and widely used during the Woodland period (ca. 1000 BC to AD 1000). It continued to be used during the Mississippian period (AD 1000 to 1540) which was also the zenith of Indian cultural development in the southeast. And although its use continued during the later historic period, there were very few Native Americans in the area by then.

While the Indians of the Mississippian period established villages in which to live, the earlier Woodland period Indians migrated with the seasons. The sherds might have been the remains of what Harmon called “site furniture,” items that the Indians left at a given location for future use, possibly as part of their seasonal rounds.

Rock Shelter on EnoreeThis shelter, said Harmon, might well have served as kind of a landmark, easily seen from below. “It would have been a great place to get out of the weather, and, facing west, would have offered the warmth of the evening sun,” he said. Midslope on the ridge it offered a good view, had “a sort of ecotone effect,” offering the varied plant and animal resources of both the uplands and the lowlands. It’s proximity to water offered better hunting and easy access by canoe, all amounting to what Harmon called “primary forest efficiency.”

One other of the four stone shelters known on the district contained similar materials, but they are believed to have been redeposited by river flooding. Harmon suspects all of the shelters were used for thousands of years.

Peering downslope from beneath the shelter he described a more open landscape with far fewer pines, more flowing water and abundant plant and animal life.

“Yeah,” he said. This is about as magical a site as we’ve found on the district.”