The oldest site of human habitation in North America is in Pittsburgh’s backyard

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Turns out Pittsburgh’s designation as a most livable city dates back 16,000 years.

The oldest site of human habitation in North America, Meadowcroft Rockshelter, is located in Avella, about an hour southwest of the city. The site’s giant rocky overhang made an ideal backdrop for nomadic hunters and gatherers who stopped there to rest, pick berries from the surrounding forest, hunt elk, and fish in Cross Creek, said Meadowcroft’s Director David Scofield.

While it was an ideal camp for the people known as “Paleo-Indians,” it was also an optimal place for the preservation of artifacts, Scofield said. Tucked away from the elements, the rocky perch protected more than a million artifacts, such as stone tools, pottery fragments, pieces of basketry, and animal and plant remains — all clues into what life was like many centuries ago.

The artifacts remained hidden for centuries until 1955 when an unlikely critter intervened: A groundhog. The groundhog’s digging unearthed some artifacts, and the freshly dug hole caught the attention of Albert Miller as he walked his family’s 275-acre farm.

An amateur archaeologist, Miller suspected these artifacts were something special, so he kept the discovery a secret for 18 years while he tried to find a professional archaeologist interested in excavating the site. But he never could have imagined the artifacts would be special enough to rewrite the history of migration into North America.

Starting in 1973, University of Pittsburgh anthropology professor James Adovasio and a team excavated of the site and sent the artifacts to a Smithsonian laboratory.

“The radiocarbon dates came back from the Smithsonian lab, and everyone was shocked,” Scofield said. “It really changed the paradigm. Previous to Meadowcroft, it was always thought that the first people in America had only arrived about 11,500 years ago. This pushed it back, and it…

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