Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

Special Introductory Offer!
The Topper Site: Pre-Clovis Surprise Volume 52 Number 4, July/August 1999
by Mark Rose

Excavations have revealed a deep stratum with apparently pre-Clovis artifacts at the Topper site on the Savannah River near Allendale, South Carolina. Albert Goodyear, of the University of South Carolina's Institute for Archaeology and Anthropology, was surveying chert sources in 1981, when a local man (named Topper) led him to this site, which is on a hillside near the Savannah River (500 feet from its main branch). Testing in 1984 revealed side-notched points, dated elsewhere to 10,000 (radiocarbon) years before present, were found at 70 to 80 cm and fluted blanks (Clovis preforms) were found at 80 to 100 cm. Later excavations never went beyond the one meter mark. At the time, no site had been accepted as older than Clovis (10,800 to 11,200 radiocarbon years), and there was therefore no reason to expect deeper culture-bearing deposits existed.

In 1998, inspired by potential pre-Clovis sites like Monte Verde, Chile, and Cactus Hill, Virginia, Goodyear decided to dig deeper. After some 40 cm of essentially barren deposits, the excavators began finding small flakes and microtools. Goodyear recalls that he "kind of went into shock. I had no idea we'd find artifacts." This year's excavations have confirmed that discovery.

The lower level, now exposed over a total of 28 square meters, has yielded some 1,000 waste flakes and 15 microtools (mostly microblades). The excavators also found a pile of 20 chert pebbles plus four small quartz pebbles, possible hammerstones.

The same yellow chert was used in the upper and lower levels, but apparently in the upper levels the people had access to large pieces of chert extracted from the hillside and cobbles of it from the riverbed, while in the deeper level only small pebbles of it were used. Because artifacts of the types in the upper level are not found in the lower level and vice versa, Goodyear does not believe the flakes and tools were pushed into the lower level by tree roots or burrowing animals.

For now, dating of the artifacts depends on the stratigraphy and comparison with other sites. There is little organic material preserved in the sandy matrix making radiocarbon-dating difficult. Samples for carbon-dating and OSL (optically stimulated luminescence) dating are now being analyzed.

Goodyear thinks the site was used for the exploitation of chert pebbles sometime between 12,000 and 20,000 years ago. No evidence of bifaces and unifaces typical of later Clovis have been found in the lower level, and Goodyear looks to Siberian microblade industries for parallels. Artifacts from possible pre-Clovis sites, including Topper, Cactus Hill, and Meadowcroft (in Pennsylvania), will be shown to Asian scholars at the Smithsonian this August. Plans call for excavations at Topper, which stopped at the end of May, to resume next spring.

© 1999 by the Archaeological Institute of America