As a native Hilton Head Islander, I spent lots of time with my father digging through shells washed up on shore, or looking through sandy banks for Native American pottery. During summer we would rent a small boat and motor over to some of the uninhabited islands close to Hilton Head, pulling the boat up on the sand.
Sometimes we would bring a picnic lunch…other times we’d stay just long enough to sift through sand and nearby foliage looking for hidden treasures.
My father’s passion for history led him to teach me and my older brother about the ecological and historical environment of Hilton Head Island and the Lowcountry that we were fortunate enough to be raised in. I remember 2 a.m. walks to the beach from our house in Sea Pines Plantation to see the sea turtle nests and learn about their journey to shore to lay their eggs and the trip the baby sea turtles would later make back to the ocean. He loved to collect treasures…from petrified wood, arrowheads, pottery, shark teeth, interesting shells, to other unique finds that would wash up on shore.
Daufuskie Island, when I was younger, proved to be a gold mine for finding both Native American and English pottery. My father, brother and I would boat across to Haig Point Landing, pile in a golf cart, and head off on safaris around the island. Over the last few decades, however, places to find such treasures have decreased due to land development as well as renourishment projects along the coast to build up where erosion has invaded the coastline.
These days, Native American pottery, old ceramics and similar treasures can best be found along creek beaches. The key is finding locations that haven’t been touched by beach renourishment, and that have normal shoreline erosion upstream. Searching under bridges can yield good results after a big storm. There are some less known opportunist locations to those unfamiliar with the area such as off-island boat landings. For example, the H.E. Trask Boat Landing at the end of Sawmill Creek Road (Turn opposite the Tanger Outlet Mall #1 stop light) offers a good sandy beach at low tide that features artifacts that have washed out anywhere along Port Royal Sound (Broad River). The Port Royal Sound (Broad River) is the body of water Bluewater Resort and Marina looks out upon. Not all boat landings have nice creek beaches like that, but when they do, they are worth making a mid-to-low tide hike.
Another accessible location to go artifact hunting is the Pinckney Island Wildlife Refuge. Many of their main trails are along the waterfront and offer access to oak-covered, naturally eroding beaches at mid-to-low tide. Turn off Highway 278 into the Pinckney Island Wildlife Refuge and drive to the parking area at the end of the delightful causeway across a marsh. Pinckney Island Wildlife Preserve is a wonderful location for bicycling and bird-watching as well.
If you’re after shark’s teeth, you may find a dozen or so per week. As the tide recedes, it leaves behind “hash,” deposits of tiny, beautiful shells. Sift through those handfuls and you may find a quarter to an inch grey or black shark’s tooth. One great location for finding them is under the bridge abutments off of Blue Heron Drive on Hilton Head/Jenkins Island (between Windmill Harbour and the bridge) and on the side of Pinckney Island between the two bridges to and from Hilton Head Island. Farthest from the pier and landing there is a path which leads to the water’s edge, and this spot is terrific for finding shells, shark teeth or other treasures.
My son and I enjoy hunting around Haigh Boat Landing on Pinckney Island. We sift through deposits of shells eagerly seeking anything that looks out of the ordinary. I’ll be honest and say I can’t easily distinguish a shark’s tooth or pottery from brick or rock or broken shells. My son always seems to find a shark’s tooth, and we usually come home with an assortment of colorful shells, aged glass and twisted bits of driftwood.
Even for native islanders like me, hunting for the island’s buried treasures is always a fun and worthwhile experience. And in a full circle, I’m now raising my own child in much the same way I was raised…with the added pleasure of seeing the glee in his eyes as he discovers seaside treasures with their own stories to tell.