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Edisto Island, South Carolina . . . 4000 years ago

Fig Island Shell Rings National Historic Landmark on Edisto Island is one of the most important archaeological sites in the Western Hemisphere.  Test digs obtained radiocarbon dates as old as 2110 BC.  The earliest construction was probably a century or more older.  Yet very few people in either South Carolina or the United States even know that this incredible vestige from the past exists.

Architectural analysis of the archaeologist’s reports on Fig Island quickly revealed that the complex was far more than a primitive piling of refuse left over from “Indian feasts.”  This is real architecture that contains sophisticated spatial and ritual functions along with use as an astronomical observatory. 

The prevailing theory of Southeastern archaeologists is that the South Atlantic Shell Rings were created accretionally by primitive peoples throwing their garbage behind their huts.  This theory is yet one more attempt to “dumb-down”  Southeastern Native American cultural history and is nonsense.

Site Plan based on drawing in "Archaic Shell Rings" by Michael Russo and Rebecca Saunders

Site Plan based on drawing in “Archaic Shell Rings” by archaeologists Michael Russo and Rebecca Saunders, who carried out a survey of the shell rings on the South Atlantic Coast for the National Park Service between 2002 and 2004.

The virtual reality images created for this article are a follow up to an earlier article on POOF, ” The 4,000 year old Fig Shell Rings in South Carolina, a National Historic Landmark” (Dec. 8, 2015).   They are the creative works of the author, a registered architect, which are protected by an international copyright.

Special thanks go to retired College of Charleston professor, Gene Waddell, a POOF subscriber, who worked on the original archaeological dig here as a young man during  1971.  He informed me that late 20th century archaeological excavations had altered the appearance of the largest ring. Apparently the National Park Service survey team was unaware of this fact, or at least did not mention the fact in their report, recommending National Historic Landmark status.

In keeping with the current desire of National Park Service archaeologists that the location of the ruins be kept confidential, the specific location of Fig Island will not be disclosed.  “Fig Island” is a place name that does not appear on any published map of Edisto Island.  However, it is the intent of these series of articles to make American citizens aware of the archaeological zone’s existence so that steps may be taken by the President and/or Congress to have it named a National Monument and incorporated into the National Park System.   It may well be eligible for designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Three dimensional virtual reality site plan

The computer model below was created by the author-architect by converting the land survey done by archaeologists working on Edisto Island to a three dimensional digital file.  It is explained in the companion article, “The Ancient Architecture of Edisto Island.”


There is something “other-worldly” in the design of the Fig Island Shell Ring Complex.  Shell Ring Complex 1 appears to be re-creation of a volcanic landscape. There are miniature craters, peaks and collapsed calderas.  There were two platforms to the south of the “collapse caldera” that obviously once supported either temples or elite housing.   Note the multiple curving ramps that access the top of the shell structure, plus specific shell mounds of varying shapes.

The Pigeon Mountain Volcanic Range in Northwest Georgia. Note the extreme similarity of Fig Island Shell Ring Complex 1 to the terrain in a cluster of volcanoes.

The Pigeon Mountain Volcanic Range in Northwest Georgia. Note the extreme similarity of Fig Island Shell Ring Complex 1 to the terrain in a cluster of volcanoes.


Radiocarbon dates obtained by the NPS archaeologists

Because of its enormous scale, it was impossible for the archaeologists to obtain the absolutely oldest radiocarbon date for Ring Complex 1.    Its size and complexity suggests that construction of Ring Complex 1 began around 2200 BC or earlier.

In 2013 Irish archaeologists confirmed an ancient legend of a “Great Flood” in the British Isles.   Between 2345 BC and 2325 BC, it rained continuously in the North Atlantic, forcing the aboriginal people of Ireland to abandon the island.   These were the peoples, who built the original stonehenges in the British Isles. It has recently been discovered that THE Stonehenge was originally built near the coast of Wales and then moved to the Salisbury Plains by a European people, who invaded the British islands after 2,200 BC.

In 2009, Dr. Gordon Freeman of the University of Alberta  proved that the construction of stonehenges by an Asiatic people began in Canada around 3200 BC or earlier.  Since then, he has obtained significant evidence that the same proto-AmerIndian peoples built the original stonehenges in the British Isles.  These Asiatic Sea Peoples are the prime candidates for construction of the shell rings on the South Atlantic Coast.

The shell rings on the coast of South Carolina and Georgia apparently were abandoned around 1800 BC.  The reason for this abandonment is unknown.

The cessation of construction may have been caused by a natural disaster like a Class Five hurricane or a tsunami.   In 539 AD,  an asteroid or comet, coming from a southeasterly tangent, struck the ocean between Florida and Bahamas.  The resultant tsunami obliterated the barrier islands of the Florida Atlantic Coast and left a debris ridge 5-16 miles inland on the Georgia Coast that is still up to 85 feet (26 meters) tall.  That means the tidal wave was at least 100 feet (32 m) tall.

Ring Complex 1:  3950+/-50 years BP (1950 BC); 3860+/-50 years BP (1860 BC) and 3820+/-50 years BP(1820 BC).

Ring 2: 4010+/-55 year BP (2010 BC) and 4110+/-50 years BP (2110 BC).

Ring 3:  3990+/-50 years BP (1990 BC); 4030+/-50 years BP (4030 BC) and 4070+/-50 years BP (2070 BC.)

Cultural affiliation of the shell ring builders

Pottery fragments (potsherds) found in these shell structures are some of the oldest in North America.  They predate anything in Mexico.  The fiber tempered pottery styles have been labeled Stallings Island, Thoms Creek and St. Simons Island styles by archaeologists.  These are Native American pottery styles that have no cultural affiliation with any contemporary Bronze Age cultures in the Mediterranean Basin.  No skeletons have been unearthed at the site.

To date, no artifacts have been found at or in the vicinity of the Fig Island Shell Ring Complex that appear to come from contemporary Bronze Age cultures in Europe.   Rings or concentric rings were associated with the art, architecture and town planning of Bronze Age settlements on the coast of Ireland, France and Iberia, however.  There is nothing to suggest that this is anything, but very ancient American indigenous architecture.

European bronze weapons and tools have been found at the mouth of the Altamaha River in Georgia, while some bronze axe heads have been found in mounds along the Oconee River, which is a tributary of the Altamaha River.   Also, a triangular, quarried stone temple, typical of the Bronze Age in the Mediterranean island of Cyprus between 2400-1800 BC was located at the Nodoroc Mud Volcano in NE Metro Atlanta, near a tributary of the Oconee River.

One possible explanation of the bronze artifacts found elsewhere is that the Atlantic Coast Shell Ring Culture collapsed as a result of detrimental contacts with European Bronze Age explorers.   The European Bronze Age was at its peak of cultural brilliance between 1800 and 1200 BC.   No bronze weapons were manufactured in Europe after around 500 BC.

In our next article in this series, we will explore the architectural details of the Fig Island Complex and explain how a virtual reality computer model is created.

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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history. Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.



    Great post.

    There are known cultures who make mirror images and models; re-creating star constellations and landscapes.

    – Pyramids of Giza – constellation of Orion
    – Machu Picchu – scale models of Machu Picchu
    and Wayna Picchu

    Maybe it was a place of worship.


    The 3 Giz”ah” Pyramids : Were designed to Point to 3 key locations later noted in the Torah, ( a thousand years before Mosses). Designed by the “Shepard Kings” as stated by Herodotus and told to him by a Egyptian priest.

    “Point” left hand index finger at a 45 degree Angle. Place 2 fingers on top of index finger and create the shape of the Sinai (The land of Nod? ) Because of the shape of the hand … The Third Pyramid (Wrist) had to be “offset” from the other 2 to Represent the hand pointing to the landing location of the ARK. (50,000?) year ago.
    Draw line (at a 45 degree angle) to the mountain that No “ah”‘s ARK landed… Garden of Eden , Tower of Babel( largest cut STONES every moved at N 34.007), Noah’s ARK locations.


      Very interesting.

      What is your take on the landing place (location) of Noah’s Ark?
      Many have tried to pin-point the exact location for years.


        Somewhere in Armenia and most likely Mount Ararat mountains area. I do not think Noah would have landed the Ark on top of a mountain but further down.
        Also, if you look at your knuckles you will see more connections to the 3 Great Pyramids and the “Cherubim” (Half Lion / Half man) looking East.
        In Order: Big, Medium, small Pyramids and the shape of the index Knuckle is the body of the “Sphinx” as it is called by most. The Giza location is the exact center point of the landmasses of the whole Earth. and it is set to be measured to “Pi” – .005. We have 5 digits per hand.
        There will be a “Pillar” on the Border of Egypt to testify of HIS WORD!!! Read the statement of what GOD said to Abraham about his land Grant:
        “In that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying: ‘Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates;”

        Perhaps their ARE 2 rivers that are named “Euphrates”? 1 is a delta river, the other “The Great Euphrates”.


    Somehow it reminds me of constructing houses in the Polynesian islands.

    Maybe it’s more different than having something in common; still it’s something worth looking into.

    TV series:
    “Ray Mears World of Survival – Savaii Western Samoa”
    2:50 min. mark to about 6:20 min. mark.

    Many houses in the Pacific are also build on coral or volcanic rock platforms such as the Men’s Meetinghouses in Micronesia: “Bai”, “Pe’bai” and “Faluw”.


    Where ever the original landingplace of Noah’s Ark is, for now we should stay on topic which is the Fig island shell rings on Edisto Island.

    I’m curious what type of civilization lived there and if there was any specific reason for the shell ring formation.


      Interesting and mysterious.
      Did the researchers / archaeologists find any type of
      maritime artifacts (padles, sails, canoe parts)?

      It would help to determine if they were a landbased or maritime based civilization and it could make clear which direction they migrated from.


    I have to say that much of the information regarding the shell rings or of the people’s who built them is seriously lacking. There is much to be learned by these early people. i live in Augusta and I know for a fact that there is strong evidence to support the fact that the inhabitants of both area were indeed related. I also know that the “Spanish mound” is not the only midden. There is one close to fig island which is probably larger. Are there dwellings near the Spanish mound, yes, there are. It is sad that archeological sites are not studied with great enthusiasm because “gold” was not apart of their culture.

    • Please tell us all you know about the shell mounds. I will be delighted to publish it as an article. I do not live in that region. Please all information to


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