Located alongside the lovely Savannah River, the Topper site is an archaeological treasure — the richest Clovis-era site ever found in the Southeast. Topper was discovered by archaeologists in the 1980s, when local resident John Topper led Al Goodyear out to the site. Topper has been under the trowel ever since, continuously proving itself a cache of Paleoindian data.
The Clovis people were Paleoindians who roamed the Americas around 13,000 years ago. Clovis people are thought to have made their way over the Bering land bridge, following large game down through the ice-free corridor into the unfrozen lands of North America. Named for a town in New Mexico where the distinctive tools were first found in the 1930s, the Clovis "tool bag" has now been found across the United States.
The Clovis culture is recognized by its characteristic fluted spear points. It is an archaeological culture, not a human one. This means that it is grouped by the similarity of artifacts, but there is no evidence regarding how, or even if, the humans who made and used them were related. Archaeologists can only "see" the Clovis people through their unique artifacts. Most of the material remains of the Clovis people's lives has disappeared over the millennia. Only the stone tools survive.
Archaeologists know the Clovis people were highly mobile hunter-gatherers, but much about their life remains a mystery. Although the Clovis population was widespread, it only survived for around 500 years. For decades, scholars have assigned the title of "first Americans" to the Clovis. However, this "Clovis First" model has been increasingly challenged over the last few years as solid evidence is beginning to suggest that humans have been living on American soil for much longer.
The Topper site is a large chert quarry where people would gather rock and make tools. Toolmaking is a messy business, and as a result, hundreds of flakes and broken points are left behind for the archaeologists to find. Paleoindians were not the only ones to use the Topper quarry. It was an important resource for the early people of South Carolina for thousands of years. But could it be possible that people were using the site before the Clovis?
Al Goodyear thought it might be, and has worked since 1998 to establish a human presence in the soils buried deep beneath the Clovis artifacts. The Topper site was put on the map in 2004 when a charcoal deposit dating to 50,000 years ago was thought to have been found in association with artifacts. Ever since, scientists have been working hard to find concrete evidence linking the ancient charcoal to cultural materials — evidence that could re-write the history books and prove humans were present in the Americas long before the Clovis populations.
"Pre-Clovis Sites Fight For Acceptance" by Elliot Marshall, Science Vol. 291 2001 (Download PDF)
"The Clovis Comet, Part 1: Evidence for a Cosmic Collision 12,900 Years Ago" by Floyd Largent, Mamoth Trumpet, Vol. 23 No. 1 2008 (Download PDF)
- ScienceNews: New Evidence Puts Man in North America 50,000 Years Ago
- Clovis in the Southeast Conference: Seeking a Scientific Summary of Clovis in the Southeast
- PBS NOVA: Last Extinction
- PBS NOVA: Mystery of the First Americans