Charlesfort | Project Discovery

Archaeologists with the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology are working to uncover the site formerly known as Charlesfort, the settlement established by Huguenots seeking refuge. Located on present-day Parris Island, it was the earliest French site in America. Captain Ribault led the expedition, but he went back to France for supplies and didn’t return. Dissension reigned among the remaining settlers, who were left under the leadership of Captain de la Pierria. The colonists eventually mutinied, overturning de la Pierria and returning to France. They never came back. The Spanish eventually resettled the site of Charlesfort.

The excavation of Charlesfort resulted from the excavation of Santa Elena. The sites were directly on top of one another! Technicians reanalyzed pottery from the site, discovering that pottery that had been labeled from the plantation period was actually 16th-century French porcelain. This discovery confirmed the French Huguenots’ original claim on the land.

Digging to a depth of one foot exposes the original sand. The yellow sand shows disturbances or discoloration, indicating to archaeologists where they should dig. Wells, ditches, fallen trees, and posts of houses have been discovered from these stains, although some of the sites have been lost to erosion.

Archaeologists are currently looking for a kitchen on the site. They are excavating an eight- to 10-foot-deep well, with one or two submerged barrels to hold water. Archaeologists are able to tell the status of members of the colony by found objects and by the size and location of houses.

The lab work of an excavation is very important. Objects found during digging are cleaned, wrapped, and labeled. When they get to the lab, the pieces are numbered and compared to other pieces. For some pottery, an attempt is made to assemble the pieces. Assembled pottery provides clues to everyday activities at the site.

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