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A Journey to a New Land

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Paul Goldberg, Ph.D.

Professor of Archaeology, Department of Archeology, Boston University

Meadowcroft Rock Shelter

Meadowcroft Rock Shelter is a large sandstone rock shelter in Southwestern Pennsylvania, not far from the border with West Virginia and it’s situated in a basically sandstone and siltstone stream deposits that date to the Pennsylvanian or the Carboniferous time period several hundred million years ago. It was excavated back in the seventies and eighties by James Adovasio who, at the time, was at the University of Pittsburgh and now is at Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pennsylvania.

What makes the site so controversial and interesting is that during the excavation they succeeded in getting a number of radio carbon dates, I think, if I remember correctly, somewhere in the neighbourhood of about sixty radio carbon dates that are all in stratigraphic order.

The issue that came up after dating all this was that the lowest ones which had archeological material in them gave dates around thirteen or fourteen thousand years old that would indicate or indicated at the time that we have pre-clovis occupation in this part of the world in the Eastern part of the United States.

This led to a bloodbath in the archeological literature particularly the society for the American archaeology’s journal, American Antiquity, where, back and forth, people were blood letting and accusing the other...yes it is that it’s not that old. And people claimed that this was because the site is situated in cold bearing sandstones which is common for this kind of deposits...rock types for this time period and location that people claim the earlier dates presenting contamination by earlier coal that’s well beyond the age of radio carbon.

As a result, the dates that they have have been made older by the results of this contamination of charred material that is several hundred years old. And this debate, I’d say, was never really resolved completely.

There are still some people who still don’t believe it and Adovasio came out with a book a few years ago that kind of summarizes the experiences of Meadowcroft Rock Shelter and try to lay to rest, if you will, the validity of these sort of pre-clovis dates.