Lost artifacts, lost shoreline- Pockoy Island’s losing battle against erosion

Drone image of shoreline loss on Botany Bay over the past several years. Photo credit: Gary Sundin, SC DNR

Posted on April 20, 2021

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Two years ago to the date I visited an archaeology dig at Pockoy Island– a barrier island in the ACE Basin near Edisto.

Starting in 2018 and through the summer of 2019, researchers worked tirelessly to excavate artifacts left by Native Americans in shell rings thousands of years ago. There was a sense of urgency in their work as waves crashed next to the site. An ever-present reminder that the volunteers were working against the clock, or rather against erosion.

Two years later, not much of the main excavation site remains. The main pit is gone; lost alongside 65 feet of shoreline on Pockoy between July 2019 and February 2021.

At high tide, waves lap at the exposed shell midden, still filled with some noteworthy fragments of pottery and tools made of shell and bone.

These pieces, once carefully collected, are now strewn on the beach marked by a boneyard of live oaks. Just another sign of the rampant erosion Botany Bay has experienced for decades.

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources estimates the Pockoy Island shoreline has retreated as much as 1600 feet between 1949 and 2016.

That’s roughly the distance from the entrance of the Historic City Market on Meeting Street to the marble pillars of the Customs House on East Bay.

Some of that erosion is due to hurricanes, like Hugo and Matthew, while “Part of that is just the state of our shoreline,” explains Ashby Gale, a paleontologist who assisted archaeologists with the project back in 2018. “We have a very strong longshore drift that pulls sand off our islands.”

This erosion impacts our entire coastline, but the rate of shoreline loss differs from beach to beach, inlet to harbor. Unfortunately for archaeologists, Botany Bay has one of the highest erosion rates in the state- roughly 30 feet per year.

Estimated future shorelines at Botany Bay.
https://www.arcgis.com/apps/MapJournal/index.html?appid=116fcaf6ac6c4ad8878990161525bc3b#

Barring any unlikely significant change, this trend will continue- pushing the beachfront back further and further. When I inevitably return in two years the shell rings of Pockoy Island will be long gone.

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