The relicensing process for SCE&G’s Saluda Hydro plant provided a rare glimpse into ancient civilizations once located around the Lake Murray and the Saluda River areas, thanks to a new discovery of artifacts dating back more than 13,000 years.
During the relicensing process, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission asked SCE&G to perform numerous environmental studies, including archaeological investigations. The studies, which covered 85 miles of Lake Murray shoreline, 125 islands and one area along the Lower Saluda River, identified 156 archaeological sites. Twenty-two of those sites are potentially eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.
Of all the sites, one was by far the most important – a location that has come to be known as the Tree House Site because of the presence of an elaborate but abandoned tree house. The Tree House Site is a unique archaeological resource containing well-preserved evidence of past civilizations, including a Clovis point and several scrapers, tools used for processing animal hides.
More than 37,000 artifacts were recovered, and 80 pits, hearths and posts were excavated. Also uncovered were the remains of one Middle Woodland Period structure (ca. 2,500 to 1,500 years old), and possible Early and Middle Archaic structures (ca. 10,000 to 5,500 years old). The latter two structures are among the oldest known structures ever found in South Carolina.
For its efforts to preserve the archaeological site and findings, SCE&G was recognized in 2011 as an Outstanding Steward of America’s Waters Awards by The National Hydropower Association.
Today, the artifacts are on display at the Saluda Shoals Interpretive Center in Irmo. Other artifacts are also displayed at SCANA’s corporate campus, with plans for an additional display at the Lake Murray Visitors Center.
Paleoindian Period (ca. 13,500–10,000 years ago)
The oldest tools found at the Tree House Site were from the Paleoindian Period (ca. 13,500–10,000 years ago) and are among the oldest found in the U.S. Of the more than 37,000 artifacts recovered from the Tree House Site, only 20 were attributable to this period.
Early Archaic Period (ca. 10,000–8,000 years ago)
Less than 150 artifacts found at the site are attributable to the Early Archaic component; however, the remains of a possible structure were found that yielded a radiocarbon date of approximately 9,500 years ago. That potentially makes it the oldest known structure in South Carolina.
Transitional Late Archaic to Middle Woodland Periods
(3,500–1,500 years ago)
One of the most unexpected findings at the site was the identification of a previously unknown archaeological phase, now named the Craig Phase after one of the landowners of the Tree House Site. Several pieces of a distinctive soapstone-tempered pottery known elsewhere as Marcey Creek were found. Previously, this type of pottery had only been found at sites in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and, infrequently, in northeastern North Carolina.