Top 10 Rockshelter Features

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The Meadowcroft Rockshelter is a National Historic Landmark and a remarkable archaeological site which documents the presence of prehistoric people in Western Pennsylvania for at least the last 16,000 years.

Here are the top 10 features of the site … drumroll please …

10. The Modern Enclosure

This visitor-friendly enclosure, opened in 2008, enhances the experience of visiting the site. This enclosure protects the archaeological resource, allows for continued scientific study, and provides the optimum view of the excavation. As world-renowned archaeologist James M. Adovasio has said many times, “Even if there were no archaeological site here, it’s worth coming just to see this building.”

9. A Stack of Firepits

Located on the eastern face of the excavation is a stack of ancient firepits built one upon another with remnants of charcoal, ash, and the tell-tale reddish color of sandstone particles which have been exposed to the heat of fire. This is tangible evidence of the campfires built by prehistoric visitors to the site until a major rock fall occurred around 1,500 years ago, which forced a shift in the center of activity under the rock overhang.

8. Over One Million Plant Remains

The archaeological excavation uncovered 1.4 million plant remains including material such as pollen, seeds, and nut hulls. This material not only provides information about what was growing here over the past 16,000 years but, in some cases, provides information about what the people who used the site were eating.

7. Almost a Million Animal Remains

The excavation at Meadowcroft produced 956,000 animal remains. Over 90 percent of these remains are the result of hawks and owls regurgitating pellets containing small mammal bones. However, there are some bones from species, such as elk, deer, and turkey, which show cut marks indicating the animals were butchered by people. Two examples of animal remains that are still present in the excavation include a freshwater mollusk shell left behind in a firepit and a few deer bones now exposed in the excavation walls.

6. 20,000 Artifacts

Artifacts are objects which have been made or modified by people. The Meadowcroft excavation produced 20,000 artifacts. These include stone and bone tools, pottery sherds, basketry fragments, and all the small flakes of stone left over from manufacturing or re-sharpening stone projectile points and blades. One of the most important artifacts from the site is the Miller Lanceolate Point recovered from a level that dates to 12,000 years ago.

5. Catastrophic Roof Collapses

The excavated area as well as the entire hillside around the site is littered with rock of various sizes. Over the millennia, as the cliff face and the rock overhang eroded, pieces of rock tumbled down. Inside the modern enclosure are two examples of catastrophic collapses where extremely large rocks dislodged and crashed to the floor of the Rockshelter. One of these events took place around 12,000 years ago and the other between A.D. 300-600.

For Numbers 4 through 1, see original post…

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