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Ancient habitation site is now listed historic landmark – Rockshelter recognized 50 years ago

By Crystal Ola
Pittsburgh Post Gazette
Sunday, May 15, 2005

Fifty years after the discovery of an area providing clues to the way North Americans lived 16,000 years ago, Meadowcroft Rockshelter will be able to celebrate the anniversary this summer with its recent designation as a National Historic Landmark.

“We have been working toward this goal for more than five years,” said Dave Scofield, director of Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Museum of Rural Life in Jefferson, three miles west of Avella. “This is a real validation not only of the importance of the site, but the significance of the site on a national scale.”

For thousands of years, the rock overhang offered protection for those who camped at the site. The rockshelter is believed to provide the earliest evidence of human habitation in North America.

Meadowcroft Rockshelter has received international attention since James Adovasio began excavating the site in 1973. Adovasio is the director of the anthropology and archaeology department at Mercyhurst College. He will give a lecture and slide show and lead a special tour of the site June 18, July 16 and Aug. 20.

Adovasio caused a stir in the anthropology and archaeology world when he used his research to challenge the theory that the first Americans crossed the Bering Strait and settled in the southwest about 12,000 years ago. Before the discovery of the rockshelter, the oldest evidence of human habitation in North America was near Clovis, N.M.

But the discovery of items such as chips of pottery, charcoal and deer bones led Adovasio to postulate people were living in America thousands of years earlier. Humans also returned to the site for thousands of years, as evidenced by campfires and even an 18th-century gin bottle left by Europeans, perhaps making Meadowcroft the site with the longest record of human habitation in the country.

Public tours of the rockshelter began two years ago when stairs were built to the site. The rockshelter entertains 5,000 visitors annually.

Meadowcroft is working with the National Parks Service to schedule a public recognition ceremony, possibly in June, Scofield said. He also hopes to share plans at the ceremony to construct a permanent, protective roof over the area, which would also make the site more accessible to larger tour groups. The roof may be built next year, but construction is contingent on fund-raising efforts.

Meadowcroft is in very exclusive company; 4 percent of the 77,000 sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places are named National Historic Landmarks, Scofield said.

“It doesn’t happen every day,” he said.

Regular tours are available during museum hours. The museum is open noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays in May and Wednesdays through Fridays from noon to 5 p.m., in addition to the weekend schedule, from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Tickets for Adovasio’s insider tours cost $20 each and advance registration is required. The June 18 tour is sold out.

For more information, go to www.meadowcroftmuseum. org or call 724-587-3412.

(Crystal Ola is a freelance writer.)

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Pittsburgh, PA 15219

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