One of the most popular places on the Manchac Greenway is a boat launch and fishing hole called Shell Bank Bayou in St. John Parish. A 1930s USGS map refers to it as Bayou Jasmin but it probably picked up its new name because of the wide, shell-covered road shoulder next to the bayou. Now that several canoe & kayak ecotourism companies from New Orleans and elsewhere have discovered it as a convenient launching spot into the extraordinarily beautiful Louisiana Wildlife & Fisheries Maurepas Swamp Wildlife Management Area next door, they’ve given it yet another name, “Kayak Heaven.” The location may receive hundreds of out-of-state visitors on summer weekends and is an excellent representation of and ambassador for Louisiana’s gorgeous swamplands.

Less known is that lust a few steps away from the boat launch is a site with significant historic and archaeological importance.

During the creation of Interstate 55 in the 1970s, the bayou’s old levee was dug into and pottery fragments and other  archaeological materials were scattered on the ground. LSU scientists were called in to excavate and closely examine the discovery. They determined Tchefuncte Culture Indians had used the site for some 2,200 years, from around 800 BC to about 1400 AD, and left a debris field, or “midden,” about the size of an acre. The bone, stone, shell, seeds and beads they left were preserved in the wet soil and told a complex story of their lives here. Some might have thought these people lived in the middle of nowhere, in of an isolated, desolate neck of swampland between Lakes Pontchartrain and Maurepas, but it was a  strategic location that allowed them to travel in all directions to hunt the game, gather the area’s resources and access trade networks from the surrounding swamps, bayous, rivers and lakes. 

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