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A Journey to a New Land

First people

Meadowcroft Rockshelter

Meadowcroft Rockshelter, located in southwestern Pennsylvania, stands as one of the most contested archaeological sites in the Americas.

The site was first excavated between 1973 and 1978 by a team led by archaeologist James M. Adovasio. The first radiocarbon dates indicated that the rockshelter may have been occupied as early as 19,000 years ago, but the samples that yielded those dates were very small. Adovasio instead suggests that the site was occupied by about 14,000 years BP, which is at least two thousand years before Clovis points first appeared in North America.

The numerous occupation layers at the rockshelter contained over 2,000 stone flakes and tools, 150 fire pits and 1 million animal remains. A heavily cut and burnt deer antler base, dated to 16,000 years ago was the oldest bone found at the site.

Artifacts from the lowest levels include bifaces, knives, spear points, and small blades. The small blades, struck from a prepared core, are not found at later Clovis sites.

While most archaeologists agree that Meadowcroft was occupied by about 12,000 years BP, the earlier radiocarbon dates have been criticized. Some archaeologists suggested that the dating samples may have been contaminated by coal particles, or by carbon dissolved in the groundwater. This contamination would result in older dates for the specimens. However, Adovasio argues that all samples were tested for coal contamination, and that another dating method known as accelerator mass spectrometry confirmed the early dates. In addition, an independent scientist inspected samples from Meadowcroft and concluded that no evidence of groundwater activity could be seen.

Although a few archaeologists continue to challenge the validity of the pre-Clovis dates, many believe that Meadowcroft Rockshelter contains solid evidence for a pre-Clovis occupation of the Americas.

Meadowcroft Rockshelter