The very first visitors arrived on Hilton Head Island 4,000 years ago. These early Indians migrated to the coastal islands of the Southeastern Coast and returned again and again. The evidence of these early visitors lies deep in the heart of Sea Pines Plantation in the Forest Preserve.
|Sea Pines Forest Preserve Map|
The Sea Pines Forest Preserve has a long and colorful history. Starting in 1700, it flourished as an agricultural area producing rice, indigo and cotton. But even before settlers came to Hilton Head Island, the Nomadic Indians visited the area to hunt small game and harvest seafood. During their visits to the island, a shell ring was constructed most likely as a tribal or ceremonial plaza. This perfect circle of oysters, clams, whelk, and other shells and bones from animals, is estimated to have taken over 300 years to build. That’s an impressive return-trip rate to our Island. The shells were carried a short distance from the tidal salt marsh that once flowed through the center of Sea Pines. The structure was constructed by placing shells in a ring formation, then filling in the gaps with more shells and lastly, packing the ring with crushed shell and soil. There are no signs that anyone lived around the ring, only that is was most likely a gathering place for the passing visitors. Similar rings and Indian mounds are found throughout the Southeast, seemingly providing an encampment for the Nomadic Indians.
Finding a shell ring in the middle of a forest may seem strange to visitors but there is a reason to its placement. Nearly 40 centuries ago, the current freshwater swamp in the heart of the forest preserve was once part of a tidal inlet that ran from Folly Creek to South Beach in Sea Pines. The inlet was an easily navigable route for the Indians to find refuge while hunting and fishing in the area.
Exploring Hilton Head Island’s nature preserves and history is a must while visiting the Island. Visiting the Sea Pines Forest Preserve and the Indian Shell Ring is easy. Pay a small entrance fee to Sea Pines Plantation and begin your adventure. Once in the gate of the community, about a mile on the left is a sign for the Forest Preserve. Park here and begin your scenic walk across boardwalks, through woodlands and past beautiful lakes. About 20 minutes into your walk, signs will lead to a shallow basin enclosed by a low shell wall. You've arrived at the Indian Shell Ring.
No one knows why the ring was abandoned over 3,500 years ago. Scientists attribute the disappearance of the inhabitants to climate change and a rising sea level that left seafood populations scarce. The Shell Ring is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is considered an Island treasure. Visit the Shell Ring in Sea Pines Forest Preserve and formulate your own story. Hilton Head Island is full of mysteries, history and nature waiting to be discovered.
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