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Volunteers sought for Topper archaeological dig in Allendale County

Staff Writer
Field technician Tariq Ghaffar digs in a prehistoric chert quarry at the Topper Site in Allendale County, S.C., where evidence of human occupation has been dated as far back as 50,000 years.
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One of the continent’s oldest and most controversial archaeological excavations will be opened to volunteers this spring.

The series of expeditions, to be held April 30 through June 2, will be led by University of South Carolina archaeologist Albert Goodyear, whose discoveries at the Topper site in Allendale County have captured international attention and stimulated new debate over when humans first arrived in North America.

Goodyear’s search for a pre-Clovis culture — ice age man in South Carolina — began in Allendale County in 1998 when artifacts dug from the banks of the Savannah River were dated back 16,000 years — about 2,500 years earlier than when man was thought to have appeared on the continent.

Deeper excavations yielded even more primitive artifacts radiocarbon-dated to be 50,000 years old, which placed humans in North America long before the last ice age. The extreme age of the earliest artifacts has been controversial, and work is under way now to verify those ages with new diagnostic techniques.

“We are attempting to redate the site to resolve the apparent great age of it, but that will be months before we know anything,” Goodyear said. “We are working with a geologist who does paleomagnetism searching for a deviation in the earth’s magnetic field that happened 40,000 years ago. If he can detect that, it will show that the site at least that old and younger.”

Excavations at the site, meanwhile, will continue this spring and summer, with opportunities for volunteers to dig alongside archaeologists and learn about studies of early man.

Volunteers participating in the university’s “Dig It” program will learn how to identify Clovis and pre-Clovis artifacts in several prehistoric chert quarries. This year, some volunteers also might be involved in the excavation of a nearby Paleoamerican site known as the Charles site.

The cost is $488 per week ($400 is tax deductible) and includes evening lectures and programs, lunch and evening meals, a workbook and a T-shirt. Lodging, which is not included in the fee, is available at a nearby campsite or in motels 30 minutes from the dig sites.

A $60 deposit is required, payable to the USC Educational Foundation and mailed to Albert Goodyear, South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology (SCIAA), 1321 Pendleton St., Columbia, SC 29208. Volunteers can register online or by calling (803) 576-6579.

Questions can be directed to Goodyear via e-mail at goodyear@mailbox.sc.edu or tap@archaeologynet.org

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