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"Shards of history"
Shards of history
trefwoorden: Clovis-era - 13.000 BCE -
The Indiana Jones moment, just like in a good script, arrived late and came as a complete surprise.
On their hands and knees, volunteers unearth evidence of earlier Man
Sixteen-year-old Butler Evers was closing out his day at the Topper archaeological site in Allendale County by digging a skinny channel to guide expected overnight rain away.
Clank. His shovel hit something hard. He slipped the shovel out of the dirt, stuck his hand in and pulled out a projectile point. Archaeologist Al Goodyear hustled over to examine it and found tell-tale cross-cuts sculpted into the stone by the Clovis-era people 13,000 years ago.
"Extra gravy on your biscuit tonight," somebody shouted to Butler.
The thrill of discovery and the promise of "extra gravy on the biscuit" entices nearly 100 people each year to volunteer to help Goodyear rewrite the history of North America. Retirees with no formal training and college kids looking for field experience pay $366 each to spend a week on their hands and knees, carefully scraping away thin layers of really old dirt with garden tools.
This year's five-week session ends today.
For five years, the Topper site near the Clariant manufacturing plant on the Savannah River has yielded evidence of human habitation in the area during the Ice Age. Many experts agree with Goodyear's contention that small scraping tools made from a hard stone called chert at the site date to 16,000 years ago. That makes the site one of four in the Americas with evidence of humans from that long ago.
Those sites are beginning to make scientists think a generation of history books is wrong. Humans didn't necessarily arrive in North America via a land bridge from Asia 13,000 years ago. They might have made their way over even earlier from Europe.
Those theories will be debated in academic halls for years. The basis for the debate starts in the dirt of Allendale County, with ancient stone tools uncovered by folks like Butler Evers. A Chapin High School sophomore, Butler got to skip four days of school to toil along the river with his 18-year-old brother, Bennett, and their mother, Beth.
"It's something I really wanted to do," Butler Evers said. "History is my favorite subject in school."
This was Butler's first dig. Bennett Evers prompted the family to become involved last year. Intrigued by the Indiana Jones movies, Bennett thought he might be interested in a career in archaeology. A family friend from church hooked him up with Goodyear, who teaches at USC.
Because he wasn't 18 yet, Bennett couldn't participate in the dig without a parent accompanying him. Beth more than willingly tagged along.
"I played it up so big," she said. "I kept saying, 'It'll be fun.' I'm so glad I did because last year, it really helped him firm up that this is the area of study he wants to try."
Bennett, who plans to major in anthropology at the University of Georgia next year, couldn't wait to come back to the site this year. Neither could his mom.
"I'll probably keep coming back (in future years) whether they do or not," said Beth Evers, 45. "I'm hooked. My friends think I'm crazy."
'Camp for adultes'
If Beth Evers is crazy, she has company. Goodyear filled every available spot in his five-week dig this year. About 20 people per week pay the fee - $300 is a donation to the project, while $66 pays for food and other essentials during the week.
Most of the participants camp in tents at Clariant's employee recreation area; a few commute from a Barnwell motel. They're responsible for their own breakfasts before the affectionately dubbed "Hole in the Ground Gang" gathers at the dig site by 9‘a.m.
The dig site can be buggy in the thick forest when the wind dies down. The heat and humidity can be draining, especially late in the five-week dig, which ends in late May or early June each year. Volunteers can wallow in the dirt all day and find nothing of consequence.
Despite the hardships, they love it.
"Half the people come back every year," said Bob Cole, a 62-year-old from Hopkins who retired as an administrator in Richland District 1 schools. "I've been coming for eight years. I like to think of it like a camp for adults."
Cole, who also volunteers in the USC anthropology lab back in Columbia between digs, no longer has to pay for the right to participate. Because of his dedication and experience, he was promoted to supervisor. He directs and advises the newcomers.
Nancy Olsen, 55, of Newnan, Ga., was back for her third week at the site in mid-May.
"We do the hard work here, but actually it's kind of fun," she said. "It's so peaceful here. The phones aren't ringing."
Among the first-time diggers were the mother-and-daughter team of Cheryl and Devan Duke of Charlottesville, Va. Devan, 20, is an anthropology student at the University of Virginia whose adviser recommended she gain field experience this summer.
"I just came along for the adventure," said Cheryl, 52.
Digging and dumping
The teams take turns digging, dumping dirt and sifting it. Those who aren't digging spend a lot of time perched on buckets talking. The work is about as demanding as a day of gardening.
"Last week, we had three ladies in their mid-70s and a man who was 83," Cole said.
The volunteers spent the second week of this year's dig in two large holes. Goodyear selected the location based on topography, and a backhoe removed the upper layer of soil.
In one hole about 50 feet from a bend in the river, the volunteers work in soil profiles experts have dated to 13,000 years ago. They carefully peel about 5 centimeters of dirt off in square-meter sections using flat shovels and trowels.
The exact locations of large stone pieces are recorded on the plastic bags they're stored in and in a computer. The dirt is dumped in buckets, then filtered through wire strainers to find smaller stones.
Digging and sifting are the fun jobs because they offer the chance of finding something. Bennett Evers moaned that he had the boring job that afternoon.
"I'm bucket boy," he said.
The stones found in each 5-centimeter layer are stored in plastic bags marked with their coordinates. The depth at which they're found will help determine their age. They are cleaned the next morning at the camp kitchen, then taken to USC for study.
The lab work in Columbia is even more tedious, and Goodyear said graduate students and volunteers usually can't finish going through all of the bags before the next year's five-week session at the Topper site.
The hole closer to the river didn't yield much on Day 2, Week 2 of this year's dig, though a small circular stone carved into a tool for scraping animal hides excited Goodyear.
About 20 feet up the slope from the first hole is the more interesting-looking hole. Diggers uncovered dozens of large, broken rocks, which have been left in place as dirt was removed around them. They look like dull jewels on dirt pedestals.
Goodyear said this is the quarry where a Clovis-era tribe first mined chert, breaking the rocks into smaller pieces to get to the harder, tool-quality stone in the center. He surmised that the tool-makers then would move to the clearing closer to the river - where the other hole is - to carve the points used to kill and cut animals.
The volunteers skim sand layers for a couple of hours, eat a picnic lunch provided at the dig site, then dig some more. They usually call it a day around 4:30‘p.m. and cover the holes with plastic tarps. This day, they finished a little later thanks to Butler's late discovery.
The tent people race back to the campsite to shower before dinner. A few volunteers chop up lettuce and tomatoes for a salad, while the others sit and read in the large, screened dining area. The dinner - beef smothered in gravy, corn, greens, mashed potatoes and biscuits - is catered by a local restaurant.
After dinner, the volunteers have the choice of retiring to their tents or heading to the administration building for the evening entertainment. Some nights, it's anthropology-related videos with discussions led by Goodyear. Other nights, other experts who visit the site give presentations.
The news a few years ago that pre-Clovis-era tools might have been found at the Topper site has prompted scientists from the Smithsonian Institute and most of the prestigious schools of anthropology to travel to Allendale County. Most come the last week of the dig, so they can check out the best items found that year by the volunteer diggers.
As important as the experts are in validating the Topper site finds, Goodyear said it's the amateur scientists who volunteer at the dig who make the project work.
"They're committed in every sense of the word," Goodyear said. "And they're knowledgeable. They read books on the subject, go on the Internet. They're not just random people who come in off the street. These are high-quality volunteers."
bron: South Carolina Homepage, 31 mei 2003