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Spanish fort in South Carolina threatened by erosion

March 9, 2018

PARRIS ISLAND, S.C. (AP) — Archaeologists say 16th century Spanish forts in South Carolina suffer from heavy erosion and could disappear as the seas rise.

Archaeologists are worried about the future of old forts and the Spanish colony of Santa Elena on what is now Parris Island, The Island Packet of Hilton Head reported.

Archaeologists Chester DePratter and Victor Thompson wrote in the journal “Remote Sensing” that the rise of sea levels in Port Royal Sound would erase the opportunity to learn about the Spanish colony. DePratter and Thompson say the site could be gone by the end of this century and possibly sooner.

“Once these structures are gone, the opportunity to learn from them is gone as well,” the men wrote.

The Spanish occupied Santa Elena almost continuously from 1566 until 1587.

The archaeologists have worked with the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island on the site under the depot golf course.

The archaeologists say identifying the buildings and tying them to a specific time period is difficult. Part of the problem is the site was also used by Native Americans, French and Spanish settlers, Civil War-era plantation owners and now the federal government to train Marines.

The scientists, the Santa Elena Foundation and the University of South Carolina announced in 2016 they had found Fort San Marcos, founded in 1577.

A three-dimensional scaled model of San Marcos was unveiled at the Santa Elena History Center last year.

San Marcos and two other forts on the 15-acre settlement, San Felipe and Charlesfort, need to be excavated to guard against further erosion, the archaeologists wrote.

They estimate 60 percent of San Marcos has already eroded, that half of San Felipe is lost and that a site thought to be a second Fort San Felipe has virtually disappeared.

A more detailed look at the data scientists have collected will result in a final map of the Spanish site, Thompson said in a Santa Elena Foundation news release.

DePratter and Thompson think Santa Elena is the best preserved site in the country from that period because of its protected location under a golf course.

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Information from: The Island Packet, http://www.islandpacket.com

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