Of course, oldest sites are debatable, and new dating techniques will continue to refine human understanding of our history. But it’s safe to say this rock shelter in Washington County, Pennsylvania is old. It may have been inhabited continuously between 16,000 and 19,000 years. This guesstimate hinges on one piece of bark, so stay tuned.
In 1955, a farmer named Albert Miller found the site on his family farm in Avella. One day, he looked down a groundhog hole and spotted what appeared to be a prehistoric tool. He kept his find on the down low for 18 years before connecting with archaeology professor Jim Adovasio.
Adovasio began working at the site in the mid-1970s. The Mercyhurst University archaeologist has likened Meadowcroft to a “a late-Pleistocene Holiday Inn.” People passing through the area found shelter to camp beneath the sturdy rock overhang. “It has never flooded, it’s high and dry, the overhang, prehistorically, was fairly large, and it’s well ventilated,” said Adovasio, as reported by the website Archaeology. Hmm. Sounds better than some modern hotel rooms.
Over the years, researchers have found endless treasures at Meadowcroft. These include 20,000 artifacts, 956,000 animal remains, 1.4 million plant remains, and even a species of elk that once hoofed it around southwestern Pennsylvania. Meadowcroft Rockshelter became a National Historic Landmark in 2005.
One of the things that is so exciting about this rock shelter is that its location near Pittsburg makes it accessible to so many people on the east coast. It reminds us that archaeology isn’t just far away in some other state, country or culture. The mysteries of the past are underneath our feet all the time.
Check the website for daily tour times.
Lead image via Pexels