Al Goodyear stands in front of a hut at the Science Center’s Indian Village.
PINELLAS COUNTY – Al Goodyear knew he wanted to be an archaeologist before he knew what the word meant.
“It was in the second grade at Mount Vernon Elementary School,” he said. “Our teacher was Miss Mary Lou Wells and we were studying ‘Florida Heritage.’ I heard about the Indians and that’s all it took. I wanted to ride in a canoe and wear a breech cloth all day.”
These days Goodyear, who graduated from USF and went on for a master’s degree from the University of Arkansas and a doctorate from Arizona State, is a professor of archeology at the University of South Carolina and a world renowned scientist.
He’s the lead archaeologist at the Topper site in Allendale County, S.C., where he spends his days overseeing a team that is digging along the Savannah River. He heads the Southeastern Paleoamerican Survey and the artifacts they have excavated shake up the scientific “dogma” regarding when ancient peoples first populated the Americas.
He’s been quoted in U.S. News and World Report, National Geographic and TIME and interviewed on NOVA, The History Channel and CNN.
Yet, he never forgot his roots.
Goodyear said that early mentors like Lyman Warren, a St. Petersburg medical doctor, and Frank Bushnell, who was teaching at Boca Ciega High School at the time, helped him find his calling.
“There were a group of us they took under their wings. We brought them our finds – arrowheads and other artifacts. They taught classes through The Science Center, and they took us on trips to places like the Florida Museum in Gainesville,” he said.
Affable and approachable, Goodyear believes in giving back. He enjoys traveling around telling the story about his monumental find and tries, generally with success, to drum up money and recruits for the project.
His recent appearance during Archaeology Day at the Science Center in St. Petersburg drew more than 400 people.
“The key to my program is people,” Goodyear said. “It’s important to get the word out, to foster an interest in archeology and to find human and financial resources.”
The crowd at the Science Center hung on to his every word as he explained that up until recently conventional wisdom taught that “The Clovis People” were the earliest humans in the Americas.
“There was a suspicion that there were earlier people, but no hard evidence,” he said. “Then the Monte Verde site was found in Chile. When I heard about that I wanted to dig deeper. I began to look around and wonder to myself. Here I am on the Savannah River, a major artery north and south. There’s chert (a crude form of flint) all around. There has been proof of the Clovis culture being here for years. Were there people here earlier?”
At first, Goodyear said, he was skeptical and cautious. Even when he began to find credible artifacts that were radiocarbon dated to 50,000 years ago that strongly suggested a culture before Clovis. Some of the tools he found are now being microscope studied by Texas A&M to authenticate them.