Artifact found off of Parris Island

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This “olive jar” was found recently by a commercial fisherman. Photo provided.

Staff reports

A local commercial fisherman has found a ceramic Spanish artifact believed to be hundreds of years old in the shallow waters off Parris Island.  

At the direction of Parris Island, and with the assistance of the fisherman and the Santa Elena History Center, the artifact was delivered to the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology (SCIAA) for assessment and conservation. 

The earthen vessel is believed to be an “olive jar” left behind from the Colonial settlement of the Port Royal region.  

The storage container is a “Middle Style” olive jar that would hold 15 liters and were produced in large quantity by Spain from 1580 to 1780.

The Spanish olive jar was the primary container used for shipping commodities from Spain to the colonies across the Atlantic during the 16th through 18th centuries. 

As large containers, olive jars transported a variety of contents, including bullets, capers, beans, chick peas, lard, tar, honey, wine, olives in brine and olive oil. 

Such vessels were commonly used by settlers at Santa Elena, the 16th century Spanish town established in 1566 on present-day Parris Island.   

The processed artifact is now stabilized, preserved and available for study.  

“The new discovery is now part of the Parris Island archaeological collection.  The Parris Island Museum hopes to place the olive jar on public display,” said Kim Zawacki, archaeologist for the Parris Island Recruit Depot. 

With regard to jurisdiction and ownership, the waters surrounding Parris Island are unusual. By virtue of a Presidential Proclamation in 1918, the river bottom belongs to the federal government out to the channel in both the Beaufort and Broad rivers.  

Consequently, the commanding general is responsible for ensuring cultural resources on and around Parris Island are appropriately protected, preserved and shared with the public.  

Parris Island works cooperatively with state agencies to manage the natural and cultural resources within those boundaries.  

In the event of a discovery of an artifact in South Carolina, contact the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology by email to Jim Legg, terrestrial archaeologist,; or Jim Spirek, underwater archaeologist,  

To learn more about the Parris Island Museum, visit and for more about the Santa Elena History Center, visit 

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