Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at dublinhistory@yahoo.com.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

OUR FIRST PEOPLE

OUR FIRST PEOPLE
The Genesis of a Whole New World

No one can say for sure exactly when the first human walked through the forests of what is today East Central Georgia.    The best estimates are that modern man first lived in the upper limits of Georgia's Coastal Plain somewhere between ten and twelve thousand years ago.   However, Clovis culture relics which date back as far as 13,250 years ago have been found along the Fall Line and in some instances in Laurens County and other counties in this area.    These people lived a life far different than their descendants even ten thousand years later.

Beginning approximately fifteen thousand years ago, the Earth's climate began to undergo a radical change.  Temperatures increased worldwide. A massive polar ice sheet,  which extended far down into North America, began to melt away. Consequently,  the oceans began to fill with the melting ice.  Before the dramatic climate change, the Georgia coastline  extended up to one hundred miles east of its present location.  With a shift of the oceans to the west, the pine  forests of north Georgia were replaced by hardwoods.  The hickory oak hardwoods of southern Georgia eventually gave way to a forest of pines and river cypress and oaks.    The change in the flora of this area brought about a corresponding radical change in the fauna.  The wooly mammoths, camels and horses which once roamed the forests and grasslands disappeared.  Most of the smaller mammals which today populate our forests such as the deer, rabbits and  squirrels were also present during the Paleoindian period. Even the buffalo remained in our area,  until it became extinct around the time of the first English settlement of Georgia.


The first people who lived in the United States are identified as Paleo-Indians. The period of their existence is divided into three periods: Early (11,500-9000 B.C.), Middle (9,000-8500 B.C.) and Late (8,500-8,000 B.C.).    All available evidence indicates that the Paleo-Indians were hunters and gatherers, who moved when local food sources were exhausted.   The early occupants of the Southeast moved in bands ranging from two to four dozen people.    Permanent village sites were often centered around stone or chert/flint quarries along the Fall Line, the ancient coastline of Georgia.   By the end of the Paleoindian Period, camps were occupied on a short term basis.

Archeologists have determined that the three periods of Paleoindian occupation are marked by differences in projectile points.  Indians of the Early Paleoindian period fashioned large lance-shaped points known as Clovis points. Those Indians of the middle period adopted a smaller fluted points. The final points of the period, known as Dalton points, had lanceolate blades and concave bases. These tools, which included projectile points, scrapers, knives and gravers were made by flaking optimal pieces of chert, commonly known as flint, by using hard substances, including bones and deer antlers.   Many of the early tools were often disposable.

No permanent buildings of the Paleo-Indians have been found. We can only surmise that their homes were temporary structures at best, probably made of the raw materials available, including small trees and animal skins.  The people of this period fed themselves with a wide variety of foods from the large mammals such as the mastodon and the buffalo, down to small animals such as the squirrel and the fish found in the bountiful streams which flowed through the area.

Despite plentiful  evidence that Georgia was occupied during the Paleoindian period, there are less than a couple of hundred sites which have been identified as coinciding with early occupation of the state.  Most of the projectile points of the period have landed in the hands of private collectors.    In one of the most extensive investigations in the history of the state at the Ocmulgee National Monument, archeologists found only one incomplete Clovis point. One of the most prolific sites still remains a mystery.  Rev. Caldwell, father of novelist Erskine Caldwell, possessed a dozen or more fluted points which came from the Brier Creek area near Wrens in northeastern Jefferson County.  A secretive and distrustful man, Rev. Caldwell died never revealing the secret of the origin of his prized finds.    Nearly half of the known Paleoindian sites in Georgia are located in the middle Savannah River area and the upper Oconee River valley along the Fall Line.  Most of the sites which have been
discovered lie on a prominence overlooking river or large creek valleys.

Current estimates contend that fewer than two dozen early and middle Paleoindian points are found within the bounds of Laurens County.  The densest area of distribution extends from the Big Bend area of lower Telfair County north through western Laurens County northward into Wilkinson and Washington counties.  Laurens County lies at the southwestern end of an large oval-shaped area
of Clovis variant points which extends northeasterly throughout most of South Carolina into the heart of Central North Carolina.  While Indians of the Clovis period are generally regarded as the first occupants of the Southeast, recent archeological investigations have uncovered a sixteen-thousand year old pre-Clovis site in South Carolina as well as other sites in the Northeast.

At the lower end of the region is the Lowe Site.  The area was examined in 1985 during a bridge replacement in lower Telfair County on a sand ridge overlooking the swamps of the Ocmulgee River. Archeologists found a small sampling of Middle and Late Paleoindian artifacts mixed in with others from the later Archaic Period.

Purportedly, one of the largest Indian quarries can be found near the extreme western end of Laurens County.  Located in the vicinity of Bay Branch and the Rock Road lies a large area of unworked boulders of chert, mixed in with a few pieces of discarded workings.    There are unsubstantiated stories of a Clovis knife being found in the area.  In addition to finds in Laurens and Telfair counties, Clovis and Clovis variant points have been found in Dodge, Telfair and Washington counties in East Central Georgia.  Middle Period points have been found in Wilkinson County in addition to Dodge and Telfair counties.  Dalton points from the late Paleoindian period have been found in Laurens, but most predominately in the western regions of Twiggs County.   Laurens and Washington counties are two of only three counties in the state where Silicified Coral raw materials for the manufacture of Clovis points have been found.

It is likely we will never know much more about the extent of the Paleoindian occupation of Georgia, but that is not say we should abandon our studies of our first people.  It was time when man co-existed with nature, when the line between the two first began to diverge.

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