Meadowcroft Rockshelter – Avella, Pennsylvania - Atlas Obscura

Meadowcroft Rockshelter

Avella, Pennsylvania

This Pennsylvania cave holds evidence of the oldest known inhabitants of North America. 


Pennsylvania’s Meadowcroft Rockshelter is a large cave site located high on a bluff overlooking the Cross Creek, and while it is tucked away from modern settlements it is known to be not only the oldest known site of human habitation in North America, but also the site of the longest known stretch of human habitation as well.

The cave was first discovered by modern researchers in November of 1955 when Albert Miller, the owner of the farmland on which the cave was located, discovered evidence of traces of bone and flint in a groundhog hole. Assuming the groundhog wasn’t making weapons or burning bodies, Miller investigated further and eventually uncovered a flint knife which tipped him off that there might be more to the site. Miller kept his findings a secret to outwit looters, while he waited for the right archaeologist to reveal his findings to. Eventually he revealed his secret to archaeologist James Adovasio, who then conducted excavations of the site throughout the 1970s. 

Their dating of the site showed that it had been inhabited as early as 16-19,000 years previous, making it easily the oldest known human habitation in North America. Even more remarkably, the huge wealth of artifacts and evidence belonging to multiple cultures show that the site was used by native cultures up until 700 years ago, making it one of the longest inhabited sites as well. 

Today the cave and the surrounding grounds have undergone a great deal of renovation and the cave mouth is now surrounded by modern visitors center that allows people to view the site for themselves. In addition, there is a replica 17th century native village where visitors can get a glimpse of what life was like for a portion of the original inhabitants. 

Know Before You Go

For more on the Meadowcroft Rockshelter and 34 other prehistoric archaeological sites in the Western Hemsphere see Strangers in a New Land: What Archaeology Reveals About the First Americans by J. M. Adovasio and David Pedler (Firefly Books).

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