Evidence Hints at Earlier Humans in Americas
November 18, 2004
By JOHN NOBLE WILFORD
Archaeologists in South Carolina yesterday announced
radiocarbon dates suggesting, they said, that people made
tools on a wooded hillside near the Savannah River about
50,000 years ago.
That would be more than 35,000 years earlier than
established evidence for humans in the Americas - a
stunning discovery, if true, and one that some
"I think it's the real deal," Dr. Albert C. Goodyear of the
University of South Carolina said about the dates for some
charcoal flakes found in deep sediments that also contained
what he said were primitive stone tools. The dating was
performed at the University of California, Irvine.
Dr. Goodyear acknowledged in a telephone interview that the
research would "be extremely controversial," because some
other scientists are not as convinced that the stone
objects are really tools, and not naturally chipped and
battered chert, or dense quartz.
The so-called artifacts were uncovered last spring as Dr.
Goodyear and his team dug below occupation levels estimated
to be 16,000 years old. The site, near Barnwell, S.C., is
called Topper, named for the person who brought it to the
attention of archaeologists more than 20 years ago.
Until recent discoveries elsewhere, the earliest Americans
were once thought to be the Clovis hunters, who left finely
worked projectile points across the United States,
beginning 13,000 years ago. The Monte Verde site in Chile
shows human occupation a few thousand years earlier, so far
the oldest evidence for people in the New World that nearly
all scholars can agree on.
Dr. Michael B. Collins, a prominent archaeologist at the
University of Texas who excavates remains of some of the
earliest Americans, said he found nothing wrong with the
carbon dates. But all they did, he said, was give the age
of a sediment layer.
"We are not seeing any artifacts in that older stuff at the
Topper site," Dr. Collins said. "The stones were fractured
by nature and ended up resembling tools."
Dr. David G. Anderson, an anthropologist at the University
of Tennessee who is familiar with the Topper research,
expressed concern that the announcement was made at a news
conference and not in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.