Dotting South Carolina’s streams and rivers are vestiges of her prehistoric past. These mounds offer fragmentary evidence of the cultures that thrived before the Europeans arrived. Five of South Carolina’s Indian mounds are listed in the National Register of Historic Places: Adamson Mounds (Kershaw County), Blair Mound (Fairfield County), Lawton Mounds (Allendale County), McCollum Mound (Chester County), and Santee Mound (Clarendon County).
At least sixteen Woodland mounds and nineteen Mississippian mounds have been identified in South Carolina that are at least fifty percent intact. Another eleven known sites have been destroyed or are underwater. Woodland period mounds are located primarily along coastal rivers, while Mississippian mounds are found along inland rivers near the fall line. Beaufort County has the largest concentration of mounds, followed by counties located in the Midlands. Similar mounds are found in Georgia and North Carolina.
In the late prehistoric period and early contact period, some of South Carolina’s mound builders were part of vast Mississippian chiefdoms. South Appalachian Mississippian ceramics indicate that a similar culture embraced South Carolina, Georgia, and neighboring areas. These mounds, built between c.e. 1200 and 1500, were ceremonial, cultural, or administrative in nature and at times were associated with villages and burials. Some of them were also associated with the Pee Dee, Lamar, or Irene culture that flourished ca. c.e. 1400–1700.
Historical evidence suggests that as many as 150 mounds were present in South Carolina at the time of European contact. In 1540 Hernando de Soto encountered the mound dwellers of Cofitachiqui on the Wateree River. The accounts of his journey are important documentary sources for understanding the mound dwellers. During the Revolutionary War, the British recognized the strategic potential of the mounds. They built Fort Watson on the Santee Mound, which patriot forces captured in 1780. Erosion and looting threaten the survival of South Carolina’s Indian mounds.
Frierson, John L. “South Carolina Prehistoric Earthen Indian Mounds.” Master’s thesis, University of South Carolina, 2000.
Holleman, Joey. “Prehistoric Native American Culture of the Southeast: The Moundbuilders.” Columbia State, November 22, 2001, pp. D1, D4.