SEAC Accession #2729: North Stafford Survey


CUIS boundary and Jackson inset.jpg
Cumberland Island, designated a National Seashore in 1972, is the largest and southernmost barrier island in Georgia and the only one that has remained largely undeveloped. The inset image of the Georgia coast is adapted from  Jackson 2006.


A trail through the Cumberland Island Wilderness.

Archeologists Robert Hellmann, Timothy Roberts, Eric Bezemek, and Brian Worthington from the Southeast Archeological Center (SEAC), spent the first three weeks of February conducting fieldwork at Cumberland Island National Seashore (CUIS). The project area is located within the boundaries of Cumberland Island’s Wilderness AreaFieldwork was conducted on foot and did not involve the use of power tools or other equipment (wheeled transport) that would violate the spirit of the Wilderness Act. Although motorized transport was necessary to get to and from the survey area and to be on hand to meet safety concerns, it was staged at the Main Road, which is not considered to be part of the Wilderness Area.

Their work expanded on a survey initiated in July 2015 to identify the boundaries of a series of sixteen sites recorded by former SEAC director John Ehrenhard in the mid-1970s. Ehrenhard based the boundaries of the sites especially on the surface expression of shell deposits, and artifacts and shell deposits exposed along the eroding edges of bluffs on the western edge of the island. In fact, the project was motivated in part by the steady if not accelerating rate of erosion notable along the island’s western shore caused in part by our planet’s changing climate and regional sea-level rise.

Eric Bezemek recording a shovel test soil profile.


To better define the sites’ boundaries, evaluate their integrity, gauge the impacts of erosion, and establish a cultural material profile, SEAC archeologists completed a systematic shovel testing survey at each site; the most recent mobilization focused on the four northernmost sites, 9 CAM 13 through 9 CAM 16.


Each shovel test was placed at 20 meter intervals along transects each spaced at 20 meter intervals. Each test was 40 to 50 cm in diameter and excavated at least 100 cm below the ground surface. The soil was screened through ¼ inch mesh hardware cloth to recover any cultural material that may be present. Each test was numbered consecutively but also has a number corresponding to the survey grid. Information regarding each shovel test was entered onto standardized forms describing location, depth, and soil characteristics, and any material that was recovered. In addition, the position of each test and other significant features encountered during the fieldwork were recorded with a Trimble GPS capable of sub-meter accuracy and referenced to the North American Datum 83 (CORS 96) coordinate system (Zone 17).

Eric Bezemek and Tim Roberts shovel testing in the Cumberland Island Wilderness Area.


Shovel testing tools of the trade include pull tapes for establishing a grid, flags for marking tests on a grid, a shovel, a shaker screen with 1/4″ hardware cloth, a tarp for catching screened soil to be replaced in the hole, gloves for screening, field forms and pencils, artifact bags and markers, a trowel for cleaning test profiles, a tape measure or folding rule for recording soil strata depths, a Munsell color chart for describing soil colors, a GPS for digitally recording the location of the test, and a bit of upper body strength, keen eyes, patience, and enthusiasm

Artifacts recovered from each test were issued a Field Specimen number and listed on a Field Specimen Provenience Form. These specimens were collected for analysis and placed in clear plastic ziplock bags and labeled with the park name, date, project accession number, field specimen (FS) number, specific provenience, and name of the investigator(s) printed on the outside of the bag.

This Instagram contains several pictures from SEAC’s recent trip to Cumberland Island and other National Parks in the Southeast.

The cultural materials collected, field forms, photographs, maps, and GPS data are currently being processed in the SEAC laboratory. Based on preliminary observations in the field, the majority of the artifacts recovered during the excavations are Native American ceramics from possibly as early as the Late Archaic period (ca. 3600-1000 B.C.) onward with a few possible examples of contact-period Spanish colonial Native American pottery. A chert core and two flakes were the only lithics identified. The bones of fish, turtle, deer, pig, and cow were among the faunal materials collected. A few historic artifacts were found including brick fragments, tabby mortar, a few iron machine cut nails,  annular ware, stoneware, bottle glass, pane glass, and a single gunflint.

A shovel test profile. Note the dense layer of shell and dark soil between the ground surface and the 75 centimeter mark.

Check out the

Life of Artifact series

Learn a bit about what happens to archeological materials after they’re brought back to the lab.

Stay tuned for more on the North Stafford Survey, including artifact photos, and related archeological investigations on Cumberland Island National Seashore!


Last year SEAC conducted a separate study related to the impacts of climate change on Cumberland Island’s archeological resources at the Fort Saint Andrews site. Watch a short documentary about that project HERE:

Excavations at Cumberland Island: A Fort in Peril


Ehrenhard, John. 1976. Cumberland Island National Seashore: Assessment of Archeological and Historical Resources. National Park Service. Manuscript on file at Southeast Archeological Center. Tallahassee, Florida.

Jackson Jr., Chester W. 2006. Historic Back-barrier Shoreline Changes Along Cumberland Island, Georgia1857 to 2002. Department of Geology, University of Georgia. Athens, Georgia.



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