Archaeologists discover Spanish fort on Parris Island golf course

Teams of archaeologists use high tech machines to locate the fort without digging.

Archaeologists have discovered one of the oldest Spanish forts at the historic Santa Elena site on what is now Parris Island. Teams led by archaeologists Chester DePratter and Victor Thompson used high-tech machine to locate holes where posts of Fort San Marcos once stood, still preserved underground.

The site dates back to the 1560’s. It’s recognized by the National Park Service as a significant site.

Chester DePratter, a professor at the University of South Carolina, has been searching for Fort San Marcos since 1991.

“Well, the discovery of San Marcos isn’t really a ‘eureka’ moment,” DePratter says. “It’s more of a process. So, we’ve actually been out here working off and on since 2014 to try to determine exactly where it’s located.”

The archaeologists use equipment from University of Georgia anthropology professor Victor Thompson’s department.

They wheel machines that send waves below ground and record frequencies. Changes in frequencies can detect where structures once were. Thompson says there are other ways to detect the wooden historic structures, too.

“After the posts rot away, it alters the chemistry of the soil and it alters the color of the soil,” Thompson explained.

The archaeologists say San Marcos had two-story-tall posts to support a gun platform at the top. DePratter has found people living here had little food and clothes, and struggled to live at the Spanish colony. He hopes more studies can reveal more on life at the settlement that lasted 21 years; another goal is to eventually map the entire town.

“We don’t have much information on daily life here. Through archaeology, we can fill in that record and understand better what life was here at Santa Elena,” DePratter says.

“We can start piecing together a much broader and holistic picture of what went on at Santa Elena….and it’s important in sort of, us history,” Thompson says.

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