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Dennis Stanford, Smithsonian Institution, and Al Goodyear, University of South Carolina
University archaeologist Al Goodyear, joined by other prominent scientists and students from around the world, is unearthing artifacts, such as arrowheads, and making discoveries about ancient man at the Topper site.

Topper site dig featured in new PBS series

The University of South Carolina's Topper archaeological dig site—home to some of the most significant research on earliest man in America—will be the subject of an hour-long episode in a new national PBS television series airing at 8 p.m. July 15 on SC-ETV stations.

Topper, located in Allendale County along the banks of the Savannah River, will be the second episode of the Time Team America series. The series launches July 7.

Based on a long-running British series, Time Team America takes viewers inside some of the most intriguing archaeological sites in America. The show's crew, comprising archaeologists and scientists, share the rush of discovery with viewers as artifacts emerge from the ground.

"This is the first one hour national broadcast on Topper, which is some measure of the importance of the site and the amount of public interest in the archaeology of early humans in the Americas," said Dr. Al Goodyear, the University of South Carolina archaeologist whose research at the Topper site has captured international attention and has put the archaeology field in flux.

Al Goodyear
Al Goodyear


Goodyear's findings suggest an occupation of an earlier pre-Clovis people dating back some 50,000 years or more and have sparked scientific debate and interest.

"A scientist may work for decades and not find anything extraordinarily rare or exciting, but we've had more than our share of these really cutting-edge discoveries," Goodyear said.

The Time Team America crew filmed at the Topper site in early June 2008. Producer Graham Dixon and a 20-member crew followed Goodyear and his team of graduate students and volunteers as they combed the depths of the Pleistocene layers to find Clovis and pre-Clovis artifacts, adding to the extensive artifacts previously excavated.

They also caught up with Arizona geophysicist Dr. Allen West who, with Goodyear in 2007, conducted research to support a theory that a giant comet exploded over North America around 12,900 years ago, killing the large beasts of the day (the wooly mammoth and mastodon), and, probably, many of the Clovis people.

PBS calls Time Team America "part extreme adventure, part hard science and part reality show." Dixon said he wants viewers to have the sensation of being on a dig and eavesdropping on conversations by top scientists.

"Time Team is about showing the reality of archaeology to the ordinary person and demystifying some of the processes going on. We never know what is going to happen on a dig. It's very exciting," said Dixon last June during the show's taping.

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The Topper Story

 

Dr. Al Goodyear began excavating Clovis artifacts along the Savannah River in Allendale County in 1984. In 1998, hoping to find evidence of a pre-Clovis culture earlier than the accepted 13,100 years, Goodyear began a concerted digging effort on a site called Topper, located on the property of the Clariant Corporation.

His efforts paid off.

Goodyear unearthed blades made of flint and chert that he believed to be the tools of an ice age culture back some 16,000 years or more. His findings, as well as similar ones yielded at other pre-Clovis sites in North America, sparked great change and debate in the scientific community.

Believing that if Clovis people thrived near the banks of the Savannah River, Goodyear thought the area could have been an ideal location for a more ancient culture. Acting on a hunch in 2004, Goodyear dug even deeper down into the Pleistocene Terrace and found more artifacts of a pre-Clovis type buried in a layer of sediment stained with charcoal deposits. Radio carbon dates of the burnt plant remains yielded dates of 50,000 years, which suggested that man was in South Carolina long before the last ice age. Goodyear's finding not only captured international media attention, it also opened scientific minds to the possibility of an even earlier pre-Clovis occupation in the Americas.

Since 2004, Goodyear has continued his Clovis and pre-Clovis excavations at Topper. In 2007, a new wrinkle in the Topper story emerged when a group of geo-scientists suggested that the explosion of a massive comet 12,900 years ago may have wiped out man and the great beasts of the day. The theory was supported when scientists found concentrations of iridium, an extraterrestrial element found in comets in the Clovis-era sediment. Goodyear's artifact research also supported the theory, as his data showed a tremendous drop-off of the fluted spear points around that same time period.

With private support, a massive shelter and viewing deck now sits above the dig, sheltering Goodyear and his team of graduate students and volunteers from the heat and rain as they continue their work on what may be the most significant early-man dig in America.

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