Little Barnwell Island

Also known as: 38BU23
N of Port Royal, Port Royal, South Carolina


Little Barnwell Island, View of Mound

South Carolina Department of Archives and History

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The mound on Little Barnwell Island has produced one of the most unique architectural features ever excavated from a prehistoric site in the Southeastern United States. The site consists of two shell and earth mounds located on the eastern side of Little Barnwell Island overlooking Whale Branch. The large of the two mounds is elliptical in outline. Excavations conducted in the late nineteenth century have demonstrated that this mound once served as the base for a temple or ceremonial building. In the lower levels of the mound the remains of a very well preserved building were uncovered. The practice of purposely destroying a temple, adding a fresh cap of clay or earth, and then constructing a new building on the mound summit was widespread in the Southeast. Usually the old buildings were burned or torn down. Little Barnwell Island is the only known situation where the structure was covered with earth while still standing. What is exceptional about the site is the state or preservation of the building walls and indication of such perishable architectural features as roof and wall supports. The smaller mound was constructed of various alternating lenses of sand, clay, and oyster shell and is being slowly eroded by the waters of Whale Branch. Based on a comparative analysis of pottery from the site the mounds and building were probably constructed during the late Savannah II Period ca. A.D. 1500. Listed in the National Register August 14, 1973. - SCDAH

National Register information 

Posted to the National Register of Historic Places on August 14, 1973
Reference number
Area of significance
Archeology - Prehistoric
Level of significance
Evaluation criteria
D - Information Potential
Property type
Historic functions
Ceremonial site; Graves/burials
Current function
Period of significance
1749-1500 AD
Number of properties
Contributing structures: 2

Update Log 

  • August 15, 2014: Photo imported by Michael Miller
  • June 17, 2014: Updated by Michael Miller: Added "Description"