Archaeologist's find could shake up science


Jan 7, 2007

Archaeologist Albert Goodyear is working on the find of his life.

Based on radiocarbon tests and artifacts he's found along the Savannah River in South Carolina, Goodyear believes that humans existed in North America as many as 50,000 years ago, shattering the long-held notion that the earliest settlers arrived here about 13,000 years ago in Alaska via a lost land bridge.

Not everyone is convinced, but Goodyear believes further excavation and testing at the South Carolina location, known as the Topper site, will confirm his findings.

He's taking a break next week to come to St. Petersburg for a talk at the Science Center about Florida's first inhabitants. It's a coming home for him. After all, it was here that his interest in all things old first began.

You're from St. Petersburg?

I was born in St. Petersburg. I went to Boca Ciega High School, graduated in 1964.

What drew to you archeology?

I think it was in second grade, at Mount Vernon Elementary, we had a unit on Florida heritage. You study the state tree and the bird and all that, and we studied the Seminole Indians. I was really captivated. I thought, 'Hmm, that's the way to live.' I think that sort of predisposed me. When I was 8, my grandmother pulled out an old family trunk with an Indian arrowhead. That really fired up my imagination.

Your work at the Topper site in South Carolina showed that humans existed in North America far earlier than previously thought. Why does that matter?

People, just regular people, are extremely interested. ... I think it taps into a deep curiosity that humans have about their origins. I don't care whether you're in France or South Africa or South Carolina.

Do you think the Topper site will be your greatest discovery or is that yet to come?

I hope it is. Not just for our site, but for the sake of the program. The profession is slowly moving along to accept that there really were people here before the Clovis (roughly 13,000 years ago). The Topper site is unique ... it looks to me like it's the oldest radiocarbon site in North America. That's a huge statement. We're still working on it. Just to have literally found a site of that antiquity, the implications are just enormous. It does say, if it's that old, that people were getting into the United States the same time they were getting into Australia. That's part of that very old migration story. Literally, if it all works out, and I'm convinced that it will, obviously it will be the find of my lifetime.

What's it like to now be the one that people come to listen to?

It comes with the notoriety of the Topper site. ... People are curious about it and want to know what it is, and is it true? I try to cover that when I give these presentations. For me it's fun. It's pretty gratifying because I've always liked working with the public - especially amateur archeologists, since I started out as one.