Shell Ring

Sea Pines Forest Preserve

Hilton Head Island SC 29928

The Indian Shell Ring in the Forest Preserve was built at the time of the Great Pyramids of Egypt—4,000 years ago.

What is the Sea Pines Shell Ring?
This ring of shells, piled several feet above the ground, was built by native Americans almost 4,000 years ago.  This Sea Pines Shell Ring is truly unique in that it is still largely undamaged. It is one of only 50 Shell Rings known to exist. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is protected by law. The other rings- including two on Hilton Head- were broken up when the shells were removed and used in the form of tabby for roads and buildings. Some of the Indian Shell Rings were originally 10 feet high and 30 feet wide at the base. This one located in Sea Pines is 150 feet in diameter. Archaeologists are unsure about why rings were built, although many see them as early villages, meeting points, ritual centers, or a combination of functions.

Where is the Indian Shell Ring?
A short walk starting at the east entrance of the Forest Preserve (off Lawton Drive) leads to the Indian Shell Ring, which is well marked and has recently been cleared to provide a remarkable view of the total ring. It was probably located in this particular area because of nearby springs and it is thought that the present terrain is almost the same as it was when the Shell Ring was built.

Who built the Indian Shell Ring?
The name of the Indians who built the Shell Ring is not known to us. (After all, who is there to ask, since these people lived here 4,000 years ago and left no written history?) We do know several interesting things about them, though, thanks to the traces of their way of life that they left behind in the Shell Rings.

They were semi-nomadic. They wandered up and down the Savannah River according to the season, arriving here on Hilton Head in the fall of the year (according to an analysis of discarded clam shells). These Indians represent a transition period of 1,000 to 1,500 years between fully nomadic peoples and the more settled tribal groups who had become agrarian by about 1000 A.D.

They had no bow and arrows as yet, but used spears and spear throwers (atlatl) for hunting game. Their spears were fitted with distinctive stemmed projectile points, usually made of chert (a rock resembling flint, mined near here on the Savannah River in the vicinity of present-day Allendale). Some points were made of antler, as were the drills that were used to make sockets for the points.

The Shell Ring builders are believed to have invented pottery in North America. Remains of their “fiber-tempered” pots, made of clay mixed with Spanish Moss, have been found in this area. The pottery is very similar to that found on the Yucatan Peninsula.