Approximately 150 people attended the Sept. 15 invitation-only unveiling of the “Searching for Our Beginnings” exhibit, the only permanent public display of Topper artifacts in existence.
“The creation of a display of Topper artifacts for the public to enjoy is a good example of how our flagship and local campus are collaborating to serve our communities,” Dr. Ann Carmichael, dean of USC Salkehatchie, said. “We live in a region that is rich in history and heritage, and we want to bring this to life through this exhibit.”
The exhibit includes flake tools, choppers, blades and other artifacts that provide insight into early human life. The newest additions are specific to the Topper and Big Pine Tree site. Informational panels which provide visitors with background on the site, as well as on the Clovis and pre-Clovis cultures, help visitors understand the importance of these discoveries to science and anthropology.
“Children and adults who have watched CNN and other broadcasts on Topper can say with pride that these artifacts were found in their own back yard,” Carmichael said. “We look forward to hosting field trips from local schools, historical societies and others who want to see firsthand the tools that were in the hands of man as far back as 50,000 years.”
The exhibit’s importance becomes obvious once it is understood that the discoveries made at the rural Allendale County location have challenged some of the basic scientific assumptions about human history. The Topper site has shown that the earliest humans were in North America as much as 50,000 years ago, much earlier than previously thought, and well before the last ice age.
“Wherever you go in the world, people are always interested in knowing where we came from as a species, and they are particularly interested in who were the first people here, where I live,” Dr. Al Goodyear, the USC archaeologist who has led the Topper expedition since the 1980s, said. “Somehow, if we know where, when, and how we started, we might gain some insight into what we are today. This of course has philosophical, religious and scientific elements. That this issue could somehow be investigated on the banks of the Savannah River in Allendale County, well, what are the chances of that?”
USC Salkehatchie was proactive in making the exhibit possible, successfully seeking and receiving grant funds from the Winthrop Family Allendale-Hampton Fund. Goodyear secured additional funding from Clariant Corporation, which owns the Topper site, as well as the Winthrop family, which has long supported the Salkehatchie campus and has an interest in local archaeology. S.C. Archaeology Public Outreach Division (SCAPOD), a non-profit dedicated to preservation and archaeology education, designed the display in consultation with Goodyear.
The new exhibit builds on existing displays of artifacts, many which had been donated by area citizens and were already housed at USC Salkehatchie. The campus is also home to artifacts on loan from Harvard University, found during past expeditions to the area.
The current exhibit is only the first phase of a multi-phase project that Carmichael hopes one day will be the centerpiece of a science and technology center at USC Salkehatchie. SCAPOD is currently working on plans for the expansion of the exhibit which include interactive displays and audio-visual elements, such as excerpts from the numerous news segments and television features that have explored Topper discoveries.
Additional funds will be required to continue the growth of the exhibit. Anyone interested in discussing a contribution can contact Carmichael at 803-584-3446 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Goodyear at Goodyear@mailbox.sc.edu.
The exhibit is free and open to the public during the regular operating hours of the campus library.