DI teen publishes field guide on Daniel Island artifacts

Although there are no physical historical structures present on Daniel Island, the coastal community’s past is still “speaking” to residents and guests today. Daniel Island teen John Conley, who graduated last June from Academic Magnet High School (AMHS), has been listening to their story.

On days when the tide is low, pieces of that history often reveal themselves along the Wando River shoreline. Over the years, Conley has amassed a treasure trove of artifacts from his walks along the beaches – pottery sherds dating back hundreds of years, Native American tools, bottles and other trinkets, military remnants, and more. When faced with the task of coming up with a topic for his senior thesis at AMHS, Conley knew exactly what he wanted to do – create a user-friendly field guide so that others could easily identify the objects they find on the island and learn more about each piece’s history. The result of his efforts – “Daniel Island Unearthed: An Archaeological Field Guide to Daniel Island’s Wando River Coastline” – was published this summer and is now available on Amazon.com for purchase.

Conley’s project was so comprehensive that it caught the attention of the Daniel Island Historical Society (DIHS), a non-profit organization that supported the book’s publication through a brand new student grant program.

“John Conley’s field guide to the Wando River waterfront marks a remarkable achievement in documenting the archaeological history of Daniel Island,” said DIHS President Chris Frisby. “It is an important example of an original, self-guided adventure in local discovery that stands as a model for other amateurs, young and old, to follow. We encourage such exploration and chronicling of our collective past. Such work truly adds to the body of historical work that can be used to better understand American history. We praise John for his dedication to this project, which has resulted in a such a fine study.”

The Daniel Island News caught up via email with Conley, who is currently studying archaeology at a university in England, to learn more about his project. In the Q&A below, the new author shares details about the inspiration for his book and the story behind its publication.

Daniel Island News (DIN): Tell us about your background.

John Conley (JC): I moved to Daniel Island about 15 years ago and am very lucky to still call this island my home. After graduating from Academic Magnet High School this year, I am now studying archaeology at a university in England.

DIN: Tell us about your book.

JC: My book is an archaeological field guide to the Wando River coastline of Daniel Island. All the artifacts included in the field guide were personally collected over the past 10 years. As people are out walking or just exploring the island, many will inevitably come across an artifact lying on the ground. The field guide is a tool to assist in artifact identification and, subsequently, learning more about the island’s history. In the field guide, identification and historical information about artifacts you may find on the beach of this coastline are provided along with color photographs…Also included are illustrations of artifacts and illustrated maps as well as photographs of archaeological sites located along the Wando River coast. The book is userfriendly for all ages and informative even for those that may not be outdoors often enough to encounter these pieces of history lying on the sand.

DIN: How did this project come about?

JC: I decided to use this project as the topic of my thesis at Academic Magnet. It provided an opportunity to use my archeological data from the past decade in a way that could benefit the community.

DIN: What was your collection process like?

JC: Over the past 10 years, I have walked along the beach of the Wando River coastline at low tide hoping to learn more about the island. Every time I went, and still go, I pick up artifacts lying on the sand that have appeared due to erosion or the tides.

DIN: How did the idea for this book come about?

JC: I wanted to create for others the identification and historical resource I could have benefitted from all of these years.

DIN: What was the most interesting thing you learned about Daniel Island?

JC: The most interesting thing I learned was how far back evidence dates human existence on Daniel Island. I never imagined that humans were on this island 10,000 years ago.

DIN: What was the most exciting thing about the process?

JC: The most exciting part was discovering artifacts. I really enjoy getting out in nature and finding relics of the past. It is a sensational feeling knowing you are the first person to hold an object in hundreds or thousands of years.

DIN: What was the biggest challenge?

JC: The greatest challenge was identifying artifacts along the way. Resources on local artifact identification were limited and I often had to meet with archaeologists to understand my discoveries. This is one of the main reasons for the creation of the field guide, to make an artifact identification resource easily accessible for Island residents.

DIN: What was your biggest takeaway from the whole experience?

JC: My greatest takeaway is that Daniel Island is a beautiful and idyllic place to live, but learning about the history evokes a deeper and richer appreciation of all that has occurred and the people that were here before us.

DIN: What do you want readers to be able to take away from your guide?

JC: I want readers and users to gain a greater appreciation for Daniel Island’s history and the past. For me, the experience of learning about my home’s history and connecting with the local historical landscape was one of the most rewarding and gratifying experiences of my life. I want other Daniel Island community members to have this same experience. By Daniel Island residents learning about not only the past history, but also the living archaeologist record, there is a greater chance local historical monuments will survive.

I also chose to create the field guide because I only began to appreciate and understand Daniel island’s past when I was able to find artifacts myself, and make a personal connection to the island’s history. My hope is that if people are now able to find and identity artifacts, they too will feel a greater connection to the island.

DIN: How do you think Daniel Island’s past affects its present and its future?

JC: Daniel Island’s past directly impacts the present because many historical sites still exist. For example, under the Wando River bridge you can easily spot the large shell middens formed of oyster shells that were left by the Etiwan Indians long ago. Moreover, when locals find artifacts, they become part of the artifact’s continuing story.

DIN: What is your favorite artifact that you’ve found so far?

JC: A Native American arrowhead dating back 10,000 years. I think it is amazing how someone crafted something so incredibly fine so long ago.

Elizabeth Bush contributed to this article.

Daniel Island Publishing

225 Seven Farms Drive
Unit 108
Daniel Island, SC 29492 

Office Number: 843-856-1999
Fax Number: 843-856-8555


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