Topper dig site subject of new PBS program
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 of “Time Team America,” a new PBS television series airing at 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 15.
Topper, located in Allendale County along the banks of the Savannah River, is profiled in the second episode of the series, which premieres on 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, shares the rush of discovery with viewers as artifacts are found.
“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 archaeologist whose research at the Topper site has captured international attention and has put the archaeology field in flux.
Goodyear’s findings that suggest an occupation of an earlier pre-Clovis people dating back some 50,000 years or more have sparked much 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 here as a university research program 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 iconic wooly mammoth and mastodon -- and, likely, many of the Clovis people.
PBS calls the program “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 among top scientists.
“‘Time Team’ is about showing the reality of archaeology to the ordinary person and demystifying some of the processes going on,” said Dixon last June during the taping. “We never know what is going to happen over the days we are on a dig. It is very exciting.”
Dixon said he chose Topper because it is a high-profile site and because of Goodyear.
“It is one of the best-managed sites I’ve ever worked on, and Dr. Goodyear is one of the most charismatic and effective communicators of history of all the people I’ve met.”
The July 15 show will be the longest national broadcast devoted to Topper, which has been the subject of a 30-minute SC-ETV documentary and has been featured in many documentaries on Clovis and early man that have aired nationally on the History Channel and PBS. Most recently, Goodyear’s research was featured in the winter issue of American Archaeology and last fall’s issue of Science Illustrated.
Scientific interest in Topper, particularly Goodyear’s pre-Clovis findings, continues to build. Among these top researchers is Dr. Dennis Stanford, head of the archaeology division and director of the Paleo-Indian Program at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History.
Stanford was at Topper earlier this month to meet with Goodyear and observe excavation.
“The University’s Topper site is probably one of the most important sites being excavated in the country today,” said Stanford. “It’s a whole new chapter of history unfolding, and it’s unfolding right here in Allendale. The Smithsonian stands for the acquisition and dispersion of science and knowledge to human communities, and that’s exactly what is happening here.”
Stanford has been keenly interested in Goodyear’s pre-Clovis and Clovis findings, particularly for any similarities of Topper stone tools that may show a relationship to prehistoric sites found in Europe. He has theorized that ice-age man of Europe may have migrated to North America at a time when the continents were connected by ice.
Goodyear said the study of ancient man is really an investigation of ourselves.
“It’s not one time period,” Goodyear said. “It’s not one ethnic group. It’s not one country of origin. When you go back thousands of years, you’re really involved in the anthropology of our species. The story here -- at Topper -- is everybody’s story.”
Goodyear collaborates with many of the nation’s top archaeologists who study early-American occupations, including Dr. Mike Waters, geo-archaeologist and director of the Texas A&M’s Center for the Study of the First Americans, and Dr. David Anderson at the University of Tennessee. His Clovis research, which began in Allendale County in 1984, is conducted through the university’s South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology.
SCIAA, part of the College of the Arts and Sciences, was established in 1963 as a University of South Carolina research institute and a cultural resource-management agency for the state of South Carolina.
To learn more about Goodyear’s research at Topper, visit the Web site: www.allendale-expedition.net. For more information about SCIAA, visit the Web site – www.cas.sc.edu/sciaa/ – or call 803-777-8170.