While observing installation of temporary storm surge protection near a damaged rock revetment on the north end of Jekyll Island, Ben Carswell saw something — an old garbage pile. The refuse was left by people occupying the area at least a thousand years ago, if not more.
“Actually, it was on the eroded upland — kind of uphill from the revetment,” said Carswell, director of conservation for the Jekyll Island Authority. “But, this was about a month after Hurricane Irma. The area where this was found, near the north end of Villas by the Sea resort, is one of the areas most severely impacted by erosion.
“And so they had gotten approval through us and through Georgia (Department of Natural Resources) to go in and put in some emergency large sand bags in case there was another hurricane — we were still in hurricane season.”
He said waves from Irma's storm surge essentially wore away a vertical, sloping area, revealing signs of the settlement. Carswell and Bruce Piatek, JIA director of historical resources, discussed the discovery at the monthly JIA board meeting on Monday at the Jekyll Island Convention Center.
“It’s what would be referred to as a black-dirt midden, and a midden is just the residual materials left over from people occupying a site,” Piatek said. “And this one, they probably occupied the site for up to 3,000 years.
“We don’t know whether that was permanent occupation, or periodic — most likely, it was periodic — and it may have ended with a more-permanent occupation later in time. But we really don’t know for sure. And it’s basically the waste materials from fires, houses, meals — all the rest that gets left behind when you occupy an area.”
He said when investigating sites like that one, there are certain things to look for — the artifacts themselves along with features like evidence of a fire pit and potential hearth, possible food remains, rotted out stains from wood posts that suggest a former structure location, and breaks within the midden that would suggest occasional occupation.
The archaeological site puts a bit of a twist in plans for repairing the revetment, a project headed up by the Army Corps of Engineers. Because of the age of the site and the presence of Native American artifacts, work could be indefinitely delayed until proper steps are taken through necessary agencies and tribal organizations.
In other business, the Courtyard/Residence Inn structure is moving, but not far.
“There were some concerns we as a design review group had expressed, and especially if you take into account this discussion was happening after Hurricane Irma, that we were concerned about the distance from the dune protection area, of the hotel,” said Jones Hooks, JIA executive director. “We basically asked that they look again at the distance there to shift it away from the ocean as far as possible.”
Hooks said the developer, Leon Weiner & Associates, agreed with the concerns and the dual-branded hotel will now be more than 30 feet west from the original specifications, and — because of other concerns about vegetation and mitigation on the south end of the property — it will also be more than 40 feet north than earlier suggested.
Monday also served as the groundbreaking for Hilton Home2Suites, a 107-room project of Buckhead America, at the Beach Village. The hotel will be built across from the Westin and to the south of the village's shopping district.
Mike Hodges, JIA chairman of the board, said it was the final commercial facility in the Beach Village, and though completing the developments took longer than anticipated, he thanked Gov. Nathan Deal and the private sector partners that made it possible.