Today was a tour of the island to get a sense of the history of the place. Ossabaw is one of numerous barrier islands to the east of Georgia, Ossabaw is located around 7 miles by water south of Savannah. There are many parts of the island geologically, the sandy beaches along the east end of the island are the youngest portion while the center of the island and the marshes to the west are considerably older.
Early evidence of human settlements on the island date from 2,000 B.C. in the form of small seasonal villages and oyster shell middens. Over the next millenia there were a few other scattered settlements on the island, and for 500 years there was a large community located at the middle place on the island. These people were probably the Guale, and they still inhabited the island when the Spanish arrived in the early 1500’s. An excavation was led in the 1890’s by Clarence Moore who excavated the mounds on the island and wrote a book Certain Aborigional Mounds of the Georgia Coast.
I was impressed that the archaeologist could find the burial mounds, when walking through the place I could not see what they must have seen, it appears as a slight elevation in the overall landscape. Luckily, Kristin O’Connell is archaeologist by training and she could explain more of the archaeology practices to me. She also pointed out a piece of archaeological glass that had was made with magnesium or possible solarized which would have then turned a clear glass to a more of a purple color, I examined the glass and then returned it.
The other interesting archaeological feature I saw on the island were a series of slave cabins made with Tabby walls. There is no natural stone on the island, so tabby was made with equal proportions of homemade lime, sand, oyster shells, and water. After the introduction of Portland cement in the 1870’s, the tabby recipe was modified to include cement and substitute pre-made bag lime for homemade lime. In this building it can be seen that oyster shells and other debris, pre-historic pottery and a animal’s jaw bone, were added to the wall to give more substance to the wall.
The tour continued to Middle Place where we saw the site of the Genesis Project, and where David lived for two years while he was the director of the Genesis Project. We toured an abandoned kitchen under a beautiful, huge oak tree. David has encouraged all of the crew to watch the movie Sherman’s March to see and understand more about the daily life of the people who were participating in that project. I have spoken with Arial and Maggie about meeting up again in Delaware and having a movie night.
Throughout the walk about the island I thought about historic landscapes and how Ossabaw offers an opportunity for the art conservator and the environmental conservator to work together to conserve the unique environment of the island. Ossabaw has one of the oldest continually used dirt roads in the United States, and there are marshes, grasslands, forests of pine and oak trees, and of course the beaches that together are the history of the island.
Foskey, A. Ossabaw Island. from the Images of America Series.
Wikipedia authors. Ossabaw Island. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ossabaw_Island
The features of Tabby walls. http://www.thehenryford.org/research/caring/tabby.aspx#features
The Cultural Landscape Foundation http://tclf.org/stewards/bennett-konesni