Archaeologists seek relatives of 19th-century remains discovered in Georgetown County
Archaeologists with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) are asking the public for help in finding relatives of a young man whose remains were found on a key cultural site in Georgetown County.
The remains may date to the 1890s and were discovered near the Fishing Village, a site of ongoing archaeological research on the Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center Heritage Preserve, following Hurricane Irma in 2017.
SCDNR received an emergency historic preservation grant from the National Park Service and the South Carolina Department of Archives and History in 2019 to conduct research and work to identify the remains and provide a proper reburial.
Under the grant, SCDNR hired Dr. Jodi Barnes, a historical archaeologist, to lead this interdisciplinary work. She is working with Dr. Bill Stevens, the Richland County deputy coroner and forensic anthropologist, Kalina Kassadjikova, a Ph.D. student in forensic anthropology and paleogenetics at the University of California Santa Cruz, and FHD Forensics to extract DNA and conduct genetic genealogy research.
"Our team is grateful for the opportunity to help return this young man to his relatives," said Allison Peacock, president of FHD Forensics.
In addition, Lt. Michael Thacker of the Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigations and Forensics team helped with the documentation and recovery of the South Island skeletal remains. Senior Special Agent Deborah Goff, SLED forensic artist, created a facial reconstruction in collaboration with Amie Duke, radiologist tech with Lexington Medical Center Radiology Department, and Dr. Summer Decker, director for 3D Clinical Applications at the University of South Florida Health’s Department of Radiology.
Archaeologists have invited representatives from the African American and Gullah Geechee communities to tour the site and participate in the project, including the archaeological lab and fieldwork, oral history, archival research, and the development of educational outreach programs. The ongoing research not only tells interrelated stories of climate, fishing, and Gullah Geechee life, it has resulted in a larger shoreline survey project documenting Gullah Geechee sites before they are lost to erosion and sea level rise.
"This collaborative archaeological research involves oral history, archival research and DNA analysis to identify descendants," Barnes said. Telling his story and saying his name for the first time in decades are the next step to provide a proper burial for him.
How to participate People interested in participating in DNA testing to learn whether they are related to him should visit the FHD Forensics website, https://fhdforensics.com/south-island-john-doe/.
Media contact: Stephen Fastenau, 803-240-4385, FastenauS@dnr.sc.gov