Section 1 south carolina's intriguing landscape (statewide overview) Index Map to Study Sites

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Geological Events that Shaped South Carolina's Landscape
The primary factor determining landscape features in South Carolina is the underlying geology. Differences in rock types and rock structures are responsible for many of the differences we see in the five major landform regions. The "Geologic Cross-Section of South Carolina," Figure 1-5, relates the landform regions to the occurrence of specific underlying rock belts. Figure 1-6, "The Geologic Time Scale and South Carolina," relates periods and epochs of geologic time to South Carolina events.
Most of the Blue Ridge Region, certainly the portion northwest of the Brevard Fault Zone in Oconee County, was the site of marine deposition of sandstones and shales along the shoreline of a much smaller North American continent during the Precambrian Eon over 600 million years ago. The Piedmont Region at 600 million years ago was a separate landmass, a smaller continental fragment, which had no connection with the North American continent. The Sand Hills and Coastal Plain sediments did not even exist at that time. Roughly 450 million years ago, during the Ordovician Period, the Piedmont landmass collided with the continental margin producing folds, faults, igneous intrusions (plutons), and extensive metamorphism, significantly changing the textures of the original sediments. About 300 million years ago in the Pennsylvanian Period, the continent of Africa collided with the Piedmont producing similar effects only on a much larger scale. Large segments of the Piedmont and Blue Ridge were overthrust westward onto themselves and the adjacent North American continent.
As a result of these collisions, most of the rocks in the Piedmont and Blue Ridge are metamorphic. The original sandstones and shales have been converted into gneisses and schists. Iron-rich volcanic rocks have been changed to slate and amphibolite, a dark gneiss rich in the mineral amphibole. Igneous intrusions have produced many large areas of granite which are currently mined in several parts of the state. Small deposits of limestone have been turned into marble. Many of these rocks are fairly resistant to erosion but the iron-rich schists and amphibolites are more susceptible to chemical weathering. These rocks breakdown to form thick soils and a half rock/half soil substance referred to as saprolite. The red clay common to the Piedmont is a direct result of such chemical weathering, specifically the oxidation of iron minerals.

Approximately 150 million years ago, during the Jurassic Period, the supercontinent which formed from the collision of Africa and North America began to separate. Just prior to fragmentation, tectonic activity along the developing rift zone caused a series of downfaulted basins to form along a line from Georgia to New England. These basins filled with river and lake sediments of Triassic and Jurassic age as well as intrusive basaltic sills and dikes (layers of igneous rock contained within other rock types). A few of these so-called Triassic Basins can still be found in South Carolina; exposed at the surface in Chesterfield County, and buried beneath Coastal Plain sediments in Barnwell County.

Figure 1-5: Geologic Cross-Section of South Carolina

Figure 1-6: The Geologic Time Scale and South Carolina








barrier islands form along modern coastline;

Charleston earthquake of 1886 occurs




alternating rise and fall of sea level (due to ice ages) produces beach ridges along coastal zone



sea levels rise temporarily to form Orangeburg Scarp, Carolina Bays develop in Coastal Plain




renewed uplift of Appalachian Mountains produces large amounts of terrestrial stream sediment




falling sea level (due to formation of Antarctic ice cap) exposes parts of South Carolina to extensive erosion



rising sea level deposits marine sediments over most of state - Santee Limestone forms in Coastal Plain



Cape Fear Arch is center of tectonic uplift along NC border; tectonic subsidence occurs along GA border



long-term stable shoreline under higher sea level conditions produces sandhills; kaolin deposits form




Atlantic Ocean opens as North America and Africa drift apart, first Coastal Plain sediments, diabase dikes form



tectonic rifting of supercontinent Pangea produces fault basins, which fill with stream and lake deposits



Allegheny Orogeny ends as Blue Ridge region is pushed westward in a series of thrust faults



Allegheny Orogeny begins as African continent collides with North America, extensive metamorphism



African continent approaches North America, volcanic activity and igneous intrusions continue




uplift of land in response to tectonic activity farther north, igneous intrusions and metamorphism occur



extensive erosion of uplifted land with deposition into early ocean covering parts of Piedmont



Piedmont terrane collides with North American continent, volcanic activity and metamorphism occur



Blue Ridge area is at edge of continent, Piedmont is small separate landmass, marine deposition occurs


several mountain building episodes produce igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks of Blue Ridge

* ages in millions of years * based on chart in Carolina Rocks, by Carolyn Murphy, Sandlapper Publications

As the Atlantic Ocean formed and grew wider, Africa and North America continued to move apart from each other. The break was not a clean one, as part of the African crust remained attached to the Piedmont region. This African crust was soon covered over by sediments derived from the mountains to the west. The Atlantic shoreline during the Cretaceous Period, about 100 million years ago, went through the middle of the state and is probably responsible for the sand deposited in what we now call the Sandhills. Offshore, marine deposits were laid down over the exposed African crust. These deposits were the beginning of the Coastal Plain sediments which are now visible between Columbia and the coast. As the Blue Ridge Mountains continued to erode, more and more sediment was deposited on the Coastal Plain. Sea level was dropping as this deposition occured, causing the shoreline position to retreat to the vicinity of its present location. In addition to beach sand deposits, the Coastal Plain also contains shallow-water limestone deposits and offshore sandstones and shales.

The retreat of the shoreline to its present position occurred in gradual stages marked by terraces or escarpments carved out of Coastal Plain sediments by waves. The most noticeable of these is the Orangeburg Scarp (Citronelle Escarpment) which formed sometime between the Oligocene and Pliocene Epochs of geologic time. From that escarpment to the present shoreline, Coastal Plain sediments are extremely flat and only slightly modified by subsequent erosion. North-westward of the Orangeburg Scarp, modern erosion by streams has created a more rolling topography and wide floodplains with meander belts and other features of river migration.
The final geologic episode to affect the state was the ice age of the Pleistocene Epoch. Although glacial ice did not advance as far south as South Carolina, the alternating advances and retreats of the continental ice mass caused massive fluctuations in sea level which left many former beach ridges exposed along the Coastal Zone. Some of these ridges were significant enough to cause the diversion of rivers and tidal inlets. Sharp bends, such as seen along the Black River not far from its mouth, are easily identified on maps and photographs and are probably a result of blocked drainage due to sand ridges. Other interesting enigmas, such as the Carolina Bays, which are elongated depressions partially encircled by sandy ridges, can be found in the Coastal Plain region and probably date to Pliocene or Pleistocene time.
The geological events which shaped South Carolina's land area have also influenced the topography and structure of the continental shelf off the coast. Erosion, sedimentation, and other physical and biological interactions have resulted in an offshore ocean environment which is increasingly important to the economy of South Carolina.
Figure 1-7: Geologic Map of South Carolina

Influence of Topography on Historical Events and Cultural Trends

Native Americans
The history of South Carolina is as diverse as its geography. The state's first inhabitants, mistakenly called Indians by European explorers, did not function as a single cultural group, but instead practiced a wide variety of customs and traditions. Twenty-eight different nations (formerly called tribes) lived in the area identified today as South Carolina: nations with names like Edisto, Catawba, Yamassee, Kiawah, and Cherokee. These people learned to utilize the seasonal diversity of their environment. They planted corn, squash, beans, pumpkins, and tobacco in the spring. They practiced intensive food gathering in the fall, collecting nuts and berries. Hunting and fishing served to supplement their agricultural and food gathering activities.
The arrival of the Europeans in the 16th century had a dramatic impact upon these Native American peoples and their cultures. Wars and the introduction of new diseases greatly reduced their numbers. However, many places in the state still carry the names and perpetuate the memories of these long vanished communities.
Figure 1-8: Map of Native American Nations

Early Explorers
Beginning in the 16th century, Europeans came to explore and colonize Carolina. Lucas Vasquez de Allyon attempted to colonize Carolina in 1526; he died and his colony was abandoned in 1527. In 1540 Hernando De Soto traveled throughout the Upper Coastal Plain of western South Carolina near the Savannah River, and noticed glimmering flecks of what he believed was silver. This shiny material was later found to be mica. However, during the time, De Soto gave the name Silver Bluff to this hilly section of what is now Aiken County. Today, in Aiken County, Silver Bluff High School carries this 16th century name proudly into the 21st century.
In 1562 French Huguenots tried but failed to establish a colony on Parris Island. Later, Menendez de Aviles successfully established a Spanish colony on Parris Island in 1566 known as Santa Elena. This settlement was considered to be part of Spanish Florida. However, after approximately twenty years, Spain withdrew from Santa Elena, pulling her forces back to St. Augustine, Florida. It would be 83 years before Europeans again came to Carolina to colonize.

The English Influence
In 1670, the first English settlers arrived under a charter granted by King Charles II of England to what is now the Charleston area. The colony was named "Carolina" in honor of the King (Charles's name in Latin was Carolus). In the mid-1700's, the trade in deer skins and native slaves was a major business of the colony. Originally, control of Carolina was granted to the Eight Lords Proprietors. Colonial dissatisfaction with proprietary rule led to a revolt against the proprietors in 1719. In 1729, after ten years of negotiation with the proprietors, Carolina became a Royal Colony and was divided into separate North and South Carolina colonies.
The colonial prosperity of Carolina was eventually built upon the cultivation of rice and indigo by slave labor. Rice cultivation was confined to the freshwater swamps along the coastal rivers. Indigo was first successfully produced in similar environments by Eliza Lucas Pinckney who shared her knowledge with other planters. Both crops were labor intensive and led to increased reliance on African slavery in the colony. These black Carolinians enriched the state with their language (Gullah), crafts, music, and folk stories, as well as their physical labor which produced the rice and indigo.

Natural Features as Effective State and County Boundaries
For as long as people have been creating political divisions among themselves, for governmental or other purposes, a major point of controversy has always been where to place the boundary lines for the town, county, state, or nation. For centuries, countries have argued and even gone to war over disputed territory and border lines. Within the United States of America, states have occasionally taken each other to court over questions of political jurisdiction. Even South Carolina has had its share of boundary disputes, the most recent one being with the state of Georgia over an island in the Savannah River not far from the city of Savannah, Georgia. That dispute was not finally settled until the 1980's, with South Carolina winning most of its claim.

Rivers have long been used as boundaries between counties, states, countries or even individual land holdings. Where rivers are primarily erosional, such as in the Blue Ridge and Piedmont regions, channels and riverbanks tend to stay in one place and form easily recognizable boundaries. An obvious advantage is that everyone knows where the boundary is located without having to hire a surveyor. A disadvantage is that a town might have no control over what another political unit did on the other side of the river, a situation that could cause major pollution problems. Coastal rivers present a variety of special boundary problems because their channels don't remain in one place, but rather meander continually over wide floodplains. There are several examples of land now located on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River which once belonged to Georgia. After a few more shifts of the river channel, those landowners might even find themselves back on the Georgia side of the river.

Oceans and lakes at first seem like perfect boundary lines, but even here some problems may arise. Although nobody disputes where the ocean begins, most beaches tend to shift position as sand is gradually eroded and re-distributed along the shoreline. Tidal inlets also tend to migrate through time. Hurricanes and other major storms can cause rapid changes in shoreline configurations. Lakes are temporary features which gradually fill up with sediment. When new land is produced, it is not always clear to whom it belongs or to whom the tax bill should be sent.
The final type of natural feature commonly used as a political boundary line is the drainage divide. This high ridgeline separating two or more major watersheds is relatively easy to locate, although not always clearly visible to the untrained observer. The advantage of a drainage divide is that it is a topographic barrier and that all water stays on the same side as it originally fell. There is no possibility of water pollution crossing the border. However, when drainage divides are used as boundaries one problem arises; their irregular shape and rugged topography makes surveying boundary lines very difficult in places.
Drainage divides can also serve as effective cultural boundaries. Because of easy transportation up and down the state's river systems, local customs tended to spread within drainage basins much more quickly than across them. A good example of landform control of cultural traits is the regional distribution of barbecue sauce recipes seen in the Figure 1-9, "Barbecue Regions of South Carolina", found in the Background Information.
Figure 1-9: Barbecue Regions of South Carolina

Historical Reasons for Placement of State and County Boundaries
The original borders of South Carolina actually encompassed a much larger area than the state occupies today. The 1665 land grant given by King Charles II to the eight Lords Proprietors, noblemen in the King's court, included all the land in North America between twenty-nine degrees north latitude and thirty-six and one half degrees north latitude. It also stretched all the way from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. By 1729, however, the Carolina colony had been split into northern and southern halves and in 1732, the colony of Georgia was established.
The Savannah River was designated as the western boundary of South Carolina, but a dispute soon arose with Georgia over land located in present day Oconee County. Several tributaries of about equal size enter the Savannah River in this region and there was serious controversy over which branch should be used as the border. That dispute was eventually settled in 1787 when the Chattooga River was designated the permanent boundary.
The present day boundary with North Carolina is so irregular because of a series of surveying errors and later corrections. According to the agreement in 1735, the boundary was to start at a point thirty miles southwest of the mouth of the Cape Fear River and was to extend diagonally northwest until it reached the thirty-five degree latitude line. At that point the boundary would follow the latitude line westward to the Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately for South Carolina, the surveyors missed their mark by about eleven miles and the boundary was run incorrectly all the way to the Catawba River. During the later westward extension of this boundary, surveyors tried to compensate South Carolina by running the line about seventeen miles north of the thirty-five degree latitude line. Although this line was straight, it was not perfectly parallel to the latitude line. The final surveying of the extreme northwestern boundary of the state was completed in 1815 when Andrew Ellicott ran a straight line from the ridgeline near Sassafrass Mountain to the point where the Chattooga River crosses the thirty-five degree latitude line.

How Places Get Their Names
In most cases, cities, counties, towns, and other such places are named after famous people, local or otherwise. For example, Charleston was originally named for King Charles of England, who gave out land grants in the Carolina colony; Columbia was named for Christopher Columbus, the discoverer of America; and Laurens was named for Henry Laurens, a Colonel in the Revolutionary War who was a local hero. Occasionally, people will be remembered by their titles instead of their names. For example, Camden was named for Charles Pratt, a British legislator who had the hereditary title "Lord Camden." Sometimes the spelling of a town's name will change through time, such as with Paris Mountain, which was originally named for Richard Pearis. Many towns are named by simply adding "ville," "burg," "boro," or "town" to a person's name. Examples are Bennettsville, Blacksburg, Walterboro, and Georgetown.
Many towns in South Carolina are named for local features or buildings, such as Cowpens (a corral for cattle), Boiling Springs (a water source), Windy Hill (where George Washington's hat blew away), and St. Matthews (a local church). Others are named for far away places, such as York (a town in Pennsylvania and in England), Rimini (an Italian seaport), and Abbeville (a town in France). Still others represent foreign names or phrases, such as Pomaria (Latin for "plants"), and Walhalla (German for "garden of the gods"). The most commonly used "foreign" words are actually Native American in origin, either purely descriptive terms like Pocataligo ("gathering place") and Cheraw ("fire town"), or commemorating national names or heroes like Cherokee (named for the nation) and Jocassee (a famous heroine).
Perhaps the most interesting names belong to places with unique local legends. Mount Willing in Saluda County was named for a revolutionary war gathering at a tavern where a leader called the townspeople to battle by yelling "Let's mount" and another answered in response "Willing." Round O in Colleton County was named for a blue circle of paint marked on the chest of a well liked native warrior. Almost every place in South Carolina that has a name also has an interesting story to go with it. And occasionally, names change. Townspeople successfully petitioned the state legislature to change Polecat to Montmorenci, Seigler to Eureka, and Frog Level to Prosperity.
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