Spanish Mount Shell Mound, South Carolina
Edisto Beach State Park—located near Edisto Beach, SC off SC Rt. 174. The mound is at the end of the well-marked Indian Mound Trail about 0.7-mile from parking area.
By Dr. Greg Little
Portions of this article come from the Illustrated Encyclopedia of Native American Mounds & Earthworks
Spanish Mount is an Archaic shell mound on South Carolina’s Atlantic coast. The badly eroding mound is dated to at least 2000 B.C. and was once at least 20-feet high and nearly 200-feet in diameter. It is comprised of densely packed clam shells and is one of dozens of oval (ring-shaped), horseshoe, and other oddly-shaped coastal shell mounds constructed by Native American mound builders as long ago as 3500 B.C. Once thought to be immense heaps of trash, the shell mounds are now believed to be actual ceremonial centers where large groups of unknown ancient people gathered to conduct periodic ceremonial festivals. Some of the oval mounds were essentially circular “earthworks” made from the discarded shells with a flat, depressed center area where the main ceremonies were probably held. Many of these sites are complexes of connected elevated rings, lines, arcs, and conical formations.
From the surface, Spanish Mount is about 8 feet in height but the erosion by the adjacent bay walkway/deck reveals that 12 feet remain. Some archaeologists now think that Spanish Mount was originally ring-shaped but the erosion is so severe that the actual shape will never be known. The severe erosion shows how densely packed the clam shells are in forming the actual mound.
While the “oldest” known mound in the United States dates to 3700 B.C. (located in Louisiana at Poverty Point) it is accepted that there are probably far older shell mounds along the now submerged coastlines of the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. For a few years the mounds at Watson Brake, about 50 miles from Poverty Point, were the “oldest” known, dating to about 3400-3500 B.C. But subsequent carbon dating at the Lower Jackson Mound at Poverty Point revealed that it predates the ring of mounds found at Watson Brake.