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Topper is an archaeological site located along the Savannah River in Allendale County, South Carolina, United States. It is noted as the location of controversial artifacts believed by some archaeologists to indicate human habitation of the New World earlier than the Clovis culture, previously believed to be the first people in North America. Artifacts at this site may predate Clovis by 3,000 years or more. The primary excavation has gone down to the 50,000 B.C. level, searching for any other archaeological evidence. Until increasing challenges in the first decade of the 21st century to the Clovis theory based on this site and others, it was unusual for archaeologists to dig deeper than the layer of the Clovis culture, as they then believed that no human artifacts would be found older than Clovis. Among the objects from the "pre-Clovis" stratum dated to 16,000-20,000 years BP, is a large piece nicknamed the "Topper Chopper", which offers some of the most compelling evidence for human agency, including bifacial flaking of the edge.
Topper lies at Coordinates: , along the eastern side of the Savannah River. The site is somewhat hilly: the lowest section lies along the river at an elevation between 80 feet (24 m) and 90 feet (27 m), while the highest is the site's eastern edge, which rises above 130 feet (40 m). Its shape is that of an oval, measuring approximately 0.1 miles (0.16 km) east-west and slightly more than half of that distance north-south.
Since the 1930s, the prevailing theory concerning the peopling of the New World is that the first human inhabitants were the Clovis people, who are thought to have appeared approximately 13,500 years ago. Artifacts of the Clovis people are found throughout most of the United States and as far south as Panama. The standard theory has been challenged in recent decades with the discovery and dating of pre-Clovis sites such as Monte Verde in Southern Chile, Cactus Hill in Virginia and Buttermilk Creek in Texas. To date, no consistent pre-Clovis cultural patterns have been established; the accuracy of these claims has been disputed, though that dispute is tipping in favor of the pre-Clovis understanding.
Pre Clovis dispute
In 2004, Albert Goodyear of the University of South Carolina announced that carbonized plant remains, found as a dark stain in the light soil at the lowest excavated level at the Topper Site, had been radiocarbon dated to approximately 50,000 years ago, or approximately 37,000 years before the Clovis people. Goodyear, who began excavating the Topper site in the 1980s, believes that lithic objects at that level are rudimentary stone tools (and thus "artifacts"). Other archaeologists dispute this conclusion, suggesting that the objects are natural and not human-made. Other archaeologists also have challenged the radiocarbon dating of the carbonized remains at Topper, arguing that 1) the stain represented the result of a natural fire, and 2) 50,000 years is the theoretical upper limit of effective radiocarbon dating, meaning that the stratum is radiocarbon dead, rather than dating to that time period. Goodyear discovered the objects by digging 4 meters deeper than the Clovis artifacts readily found at the site. Before discovering the oldest lithics, he had discovered other objects which he claimed were tools dating around 16,000 years old, or about 3,000 years before Clovis.
This assertion of 3,000 years is a much more likely and plausible number than the upper limit of radiocarbon dating. Evidence predating Clovis culture by a few thousand years is popularly termed as the "pioneer" stage of Clovis culture. This would be the birth of the culture and the start of the tool set. Researchers agree that the lack of evidence would stem from the lack of materials at hand. New techniques would take time to spread. The pioneer hypothesis allows for tools to predate by centuries rather than millennia.
The annual Allendale Expedition allows non-archaeologists to work at the site as volunteer archaeologists in late spring and early summer. They work in various field and lab roles on teams headed by professional archaeologists and graduate students.
- Smallwood, Ashley M. "Clovis Biface Technology at the Topper Site, South Carolina: Evidence for Variation and Technological Flexibility". Journal of Archaeological Science 37 (2010): 2413-2425: 2414.
- Snow, Dean R. (2010). Archaeology of Native North America. Boston: Prentice Hall. p. 44. ISBN 978-0-13-615686-4.
- Allendale Paleoamerican Expedition - official site
- Topper Site layers photo Stratigraphic layers photo of the Topper Site and the Pre-Clovis layers.
- Topper Site: Beyond Clovis at Allendale
- CNN: "Man In Americas Earlier Than Thought", Quote: The University of South Carolina announces radiocarbon tests that dated the first human settlement in North America to 50,000 years ago.