The Topper Site in South Carolina

(Considered in the context of simple zoo-anthropomorphic imagery long and consistently incorporated into lithic artifacts in North America and elsewhere.) 

Topper Archaeological Site

Pre-Clovis Artifact - Topper Archaeological Site
Pre-Clovis Artifact - Topper Archaeological Site

Among the objects from the "pre-Clovis" stratum dated to 16,000-20,000 years BP, this "Topper Chopper" shown above (both sides and edge) offers some of the most compelling evidence for human agency.  Aside from the bifacial flaking of the edge, this simple implement, although badly weathered, still clearly displays the classic zoomorphic features repeatedly appearing in the material first recognized in 1987 at  33GU218 in Ohio and, not surprisingly, many other locations that have since come to light.  Note the typical overall abstract bird form and, outlined on the photo below, two very characteristic features consistently deeply carved into such figures:  a mouth cut in the form of a bird facing inward, and a diamond-shaped eye.  It is also significant that the figure incorporates "reflectional symmetry", a hallmark of human agency, in that the image is repeated (although not as distinctly in this case) on the opposite side of the rock.  And its flat base allows the figure to stand upright.

Pre-Clovis Artifact - Topper Archaeological Site

The general form of this stone is a very common one both in North American artifact material and in European artifacts dating from the Paleolithic.  For example, consider the Topper Chopper in comparison with this "chopper" (image reversed) from northern France (Abbevillian/Clactonian/Acheulean), about 450,000 years old, from the collection of Charles Belart:

    Chopper from Charles Belart Collection - France, ca. 400,000 BP

Note that the French chopper (much less weathered) incorporates essentially the same zoomorphic image (including mouth and eye), deriving in part from natural features of the rock opportunistically incorporated into the piece.  In the mid-nine- teenth century, the archaeological pioneer Boucher de Perthes identified this general form as prevalent in lithic tools of the Pleistocene in Europe.  Here is his drawing:

The three photos below show the same form and zoomorphic imagery in artifacts from 33GU218 in Ohio.  The top two are both sides of the same piece.  Note both the thematic symmetry and the common "janiform" imagery, a simple zoo- morphic head at each end.  Temporally diagnostic artifact material (e.g., ceramic and earthwork) in context with the "figure stones" in the upper layer at 33GU218 indicates Early to Middle Woodland age, or quite generally 2000 years BP.  Apparently this form of "symbolic behavior" has persisted for a long time, and its presence at Topper in lithic material predating the "Clovis" timeframe is of no little significance.

Artifact from 33GU218 (Day's Knob) Archaeological Site

Artifact from 33GU218 (Day's Knob) Archaeological Site

 
Below, leftmost photo:  Despite severe surface weathering, the carved mouth on the Topper Chopper remains quite visible (much more so when one sees the actual object), in the classic form of a bird looking inward from the edge of the stone.  The four photos to the right show this on zoomorphic artifacts from 33GU218.

    Artifact from Day's Knob Archaeological SiteArtifact from Day's Knob Archaeological SiteArtifact from Day's Knob Archaeological SiteArtifact from Day's Knob Archaeological Site

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____________________ 50,000 Years? ____________________

50,000 Years Old? - Pre-Clovis Artifact from Topper Archaeological Site50,000 Years Old? - Pre-Clovis Artifact from Topper Archaeological Site

Above:  Apparently a simple scraper/pick from Topper, seeming to incorporate the usual imagery, more anthropomorphic in this case.  (Note in particular the charac- teristic eye, upper right, and the crest over the forehead.)  It is, of course, of no little interest that this object is from a Topper stratum that yielded organic material radiocarbon dated to roughly 50,000 years BP.  It will be interesting to see what further exploration at this level produces to provide "replicability".

Below:  Rotated clockwise, the object shown above incorporates the classic round-faced bird form, the elongated eye being deeply carved into the rock.  This is an image that appears constantly and consistently in this evidently very old artifact material.  Beneath this, a bird-form pick from 33GU218 in Ohio.

50,000 Years Old? - Pre-Clovis Artifact from Topper Archaeological Site      50,000 Years Old? - Pre-Clovis Artifact from Topper Archaeological Site

Artifact from Day's Knob Archaeological Site

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It has become apparent to this author that the people who created these implements cut the zoomorphic or zoo-anthropomorphic images into them as a matter of routine, however hastily, incorporating both form and function.  One might speculate that this was the expression of an animistic belief system of ancient and primal origin; essen- tially this same motif also appears constantly in the Paleolithic artifacts of Europe and other parts of the world.  

Verification and documentation of chronological stratigraphy at Topper has been meticulous and of the highest quality, and this team has the courage and intellectual integrity to identify and present whatever artifact material appears, whether or not it is consistent with preconceived notions.  Dr. Goodyear and his team deserve an expression of gratitude for their superbly orchestrated "Clovis in the Southeast Conference" in October 2005, and in particular for their remarkable generosity in permitting the attendees, including amateurs like this author, to closely inspect and photograph the oldest artifact material from the Topper site.  It was interesting but rather disconcerting to note that the exhibit of Topper's artifact material, which included the oldest and securely dated finds, did not attract nearly as much attention as those of well known and often displayed "Indian" flint points.  Many of the profes- sionals queried by this author on the second day of the conference stated that they thought the oldest Topper material to be only naturally formed rocks, but over half of these admitted they had not even briefly looked at them.

When the first (very few) photos of Topper's apparently pre-Clovis artifacts were shown publicly, this author noted a possible similarity to those at 33GU218 and other sites.  In October 2004, Dr. Albert Goodyear, in a brief conversation with this author, not surprisingly expressed incredulity, saying that he does not see images anywhere that are not "very obvious".  Given the skepticism with which the Topper material has been greeted, it does seem reasonable at this point to demonstrate the artificiality of the Topper stones mainly from the well accepted but simplistic perspective of  arrowheads and flint knapping; citing the presence of graven images would likely be about as well received as claiming an association with Babylonians or extrater- restrials.  Be this as it may, the presence of zoo-anthropomorphic imagery in much of the Topper material is quite identifiable and quantifiable, down to specific incision marks, as is its similarity to that of simple artifacts from other locations in North America and elsewhere; this is almost certainly real Paleolithic, no longer within the popular "Indian" paradigm to which most American archaeologists currently limit themselves.  In the long term, a Paleoarchaeologist that can not (or will not) see simple and subtle iconography in the artifact material is much like an Egyptologist unable to recognize hieroglyphs.  The typically rudimentary carved imagery is often an index to a human presence when no other is immediately evident.  This certainly is not to suggest a cognitive deficiency on the part of the Topper investigators, but rather an endemic and long-cherished dysfunction in the discipline as a whole.  And one must consider the overall risk-averse mindset of American archaeology - someone digging below what is "supposed" to be there is seen as being as madly daring as a fifteenth century explorer sailing to where the sea was assumed to spill over the edge of the earth.  (But why would one even think of not digging deeper?)

(As an aside, it is amusing that Dr. Michael Waters, who  recently trumpeted the discovery of pre-Clovis artifacts at the Friedkin site in Texas, had promptly declared the apparently older Topper material to be of natural origin.  A recurring theme in pre-Clovis archaeology is "My stuff is real and yours is not!".  A professional in this field who had become a bit cynical once commented that American archaeology is just high school with rocks. Perhaps this is not all that much of an exaggeration...)

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Below:  Another carved stone from 33GU218, also in the same form as the "Topper Chopper" (and with a wide flat base), apparently quite fashionable for a long time.  This is of unknown age, having appeared in red clay about 80 cm (32") below the current unglaciated and undisturbed terrain surface.

As is typical, this figure is polymorphic/polyiconic, incorporating several separate carved images on its surface.  The two photos below show two of these, the very common simple face with an open mouth from which a small creature emerges - apparently a theme of regeneration:

Artifact from 33GU218 (Day's Knob) Archaeological Site      Artifact from 33GU218 (Day's Knob) Archaeological Site

More Photos:

Left, pre-Clovis Topper artifacts; right, artifacts from 33GU218 of similar form and incorporated imagery, some subtle, some very clear.

Pre-Clovis Artifact - Topper Archaeological Site      Artifact from 33GU218 (Day's Knob) Archaeological Site

Pre-Clovis Artifact - Topper Archaeological Site      Artifact from 33GU218 (Day's Knob) Archaeological Site

Pre-Clovis Artifact - Topper Archaeological Site      Artifact from 33GU218 (Day's Knob) Archaeological Site

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The photo below shows a heavily weathered but clearly worked chert piece collected by this author at the surface of the quarry area on the gentle slope immediately uphill from the Topper dig.  It is very light, having lost much of its mass over a long time in this environment apparently adverse to the preservation of material.  (The investi- gators of the site declared this to be archaeologically uninteresting, so it is now in this author's possession.)  As a surface find, its temporal association is, of course, unknown, but it is interesting that it bears an incorporated quasi-anthropomorphic face image characteristic of material from 33GU218 and from other North American archaeological sites.  Note the face capped with a quasi-anthropomorphic figure (looking to the right), and the eyes, a feature of this type of artifact that received particular attention to detail.

Topper Site Artifact - Age Unknown

 
Many archaeologists, including Dr. Goodyear, claim they do not see simple face-like images carved and/or ground into lithic artifact material, and that these do not exist.  But are they just bluffing?  For a discussion of this from the perspective of recent research in neuroscience, click here:

(Or click on the image above.)

 

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