An excavation in late 2008 of a prehistoric American Indian burial site on Ossabaw Island revealed cremated remains, an unexpected find that offers a glimpse into ancient Indian culture along Georgia’s coast.
State archaeologist David Crass of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources said prehistoric cremations were rare, particularly during the early time in which preliminary evidence suggests this one occurred, possibly 1000 B.C. to A.D. 350. The remains also mark the first cremation uncovered on Ossabaw.
"This interment broadens our knowledge about … the kinds of belief (involving) death within the Woodland Period," Crass said. "This is not something we have seen before on Ossabaw Island. Similar cremations on St. Catherine’s Island may point to this practice being more widespread than we have believed up to now."
Crass said during this time American Indians in Georgia moved to the coast in the winter for shellfish, then inland in the spring for deer hunting and into uplands in the fall for gathering nuts. "This site may have been a winter season camp," he said.
Erosion from natural causes exposed the burial on an Ossabaw bluff in mid-2008. Scientists from the DNR Office of the State Archaeologist, the non-profit Lamar Institute and the Georgia Council on American Indian Concerns worked under the council’s direction to excavate the roughly 6- by 6-foot pit. As required by state law, Crass informed the council about the situation and organized the excavation at the group’s request.
The work revealed a cremation pit that had been lined with wood and oyster shells. The body had been placed on top of the wood and the contents of the pit burned. The human remains recovered were primarily from extremities, indicating that the deceased had been disinterred after cremation, possibly to be reburied elsewhere.
The charcoal will be submitted for carbon 14 dating, but preliminary analysis of the pottery recovered from the pit suggests the cremation may date to the period from 1000 B.C. to A.D. 350. A ground-penetrating radar survey showed many prehistoric American Indian features in the general area, Crass said. The bluff apparently had long been a focal point of prehistoric human activity.
After analysis, the remains will be reinterred in a secure location under the auspices of the Council on American Indian Concerns. Crass expects the carbon 14 dating results and details on the radar survey in 2009.
Source: Georgia Department of Natural Resources
Burial Site Sheds Light on Prehistoric Culture