Archaeologists digging through Beaufort County soil where million-dollar homes will soon be built have discovered what one scientists calls the most significant finds in South Carolina in at least two decades.

The land, currently in dense forest near the confluence of the Okatie and Colleton rivers, was home to an estimated 1,200 to 1,500 Yamasee Indians between 1700 and 1715.

For six years, a group of archaeologists has worked to uncover clues on how the tribe lived, how they built their homes, what they ate, how they hunted and how much they traded with early European settlers.

More than 10,000 artifacts have been recovered, including three Yamasee houses _ the first such houses found in South Carolina.

The land will soon be home to an exclusive 515-acre development called Heyward Point, where many of the homes will cost more than $1 million.

But for now, the archeologists are concentrating on the homes that stood 300 years ago. Marked by patterns in the soil made by remnants of rotted or burned wooden posts, the circular homes were as big as 23 feet in diameter.

The scientists also have found plenty of fragments of Yamasee pottery and rudimentary tools like spearheads made from animal bones, glass and stone. The Yamasee also traded with Europeans, leaving behind objects like glass bottles, musket balls, pottery, tobacco pipes, rings and glass beads.

"This is about as good as it gets,"said Alex Sweeney, the field director of the project with Brockington and Associates Cultural Resources Consulting."After this, I'm probably going to be disappointed in the future."

Chester DePratter of the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology calls it the most significant dig in South Carolina in 20 years.

The developer is paying for the $1 million project, but items found on the site will be passed along to the state Department of Archives and Natural History.

Some of the artifacts will be displayed in an interpretive center at Heyward Point. Others probably will be placed in state museums and Beaufort County libraries.

Information from: The Island Packet,

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