Integrity of Heritage Resources
Gray's Reef

3Fossilized Mammoth Rib Fragment
Fossilized Mammoth Rib Fragment found on Gray's Reef. Credit: NOAA/GRNMS

Why is it a concern?

During the last glacial stage of the Pleistocene, Georgia's coast extended approximately 59 to 66 miles farther out into the ocean than it does today and the region of Gray's Reef existed as an exposed land form. Recent geomorphological studies reveal that the sanctuary's submerged land forms include river valleys, submerged terraces, and hard-bottom outcrops, all of which are potential prehistoric activity sites. Based on findings from nearby terrestrial archaeological sites, prehistoric cultural remains in the sanctuary could include shell middens (refuse piles) which could contain Paleo-Indian and Archaic stage food and botanical remains. Additionally, cultural materials such as stone tools, flakes, and ceramics from the Archaic Period could also remain. Habitation and camp sites may also be preserved beneath the submerged substratum.

The potential for historic cultural remains is slim but not negligible. The Savannah River was the site of European exploration and colonization, as well as American maritime commerce and naval encounters. NOAA surveys of the sanctuary have revealed no obvious cultural remains such as historical shipwrecks. Additionally, no hazards exist within the sanctuary that would threaten navigation such as shallow reefs, unusual weather patterns, currents, or proximity to land forms.

Native American projectile point
Native American projectile point found on Gray's Reef. Credit: NOAA/GRNMS

Overview of Research

Research conducted by Sanctuary scientists and partners provides critical information to address existing and emerging resource conservation and management issues. The Overview of Research highlights some, but not necessarily all, of the research activities completed or ongoing at the Sanctuary.

Project Name PI and contacts Links

Applied Isotope Studies - Paleontological and geologic structure survey

Dr. Scott Noakes


Science Needs and Questions

The best available science is used by sanctuary scientists and managers working to address priority resource conservation and management issues. As priorities change and new issues emerge, each Sanctuary develops new science needs and questions and works with partners to address them.

  • Was there prehistoric human habitation of the Sapelo Bank during periods of lower sea level during the ice ages of the Pleistocene Epoch?

Education and Outreach Material

None at this time


Garrison, Ervan, Wendy Weaver, Sherri L. Littman, Jessica Cook Hale and Pradeep Srivastava, 2012.  Late Quaternary Paleoecology and Heinrich Events at Gray's Reef National Marine Sanctuary, South Atlantic Bight, Georgia. Southeastern Geology. 165 – 184.