Meadowcroft Rockshelter – 19,000 Years of Human History

Published by Jeremy. Last Updated on August 27, 2020.

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The Meadowcroft Rockshelter is located in Avella, PA, about an hour southwest of Pittsburgh.

Although this one is a bit of a drive, it is worth the trip during their seasonal hours in order to check out the 19,000 years of human history found on the property!

A Brief History of the Meadowcroft Rockshelter

The Meadowcroft Rockshelter

The land now known as the Meadowcroft Rockshelter was owned by Albert Miller who had a great interest in archaeology and preserving history.

The local history begins in 1955 when Albert found Native Americans artifacts at the rockshelter- a large rock overhang on his property. Although it took him 18 years to finally convince an archaeologist to come dig, he pressed onto alternative means of preserving local history by building period inspired “villages” on his property for visitors to enjoy.

The Meadowcroft Rockshelter

In 1973, Albert finally convinced archaeologists from the University of Pittsburgh to begin excavating in the rockshelter, and found evidence of human use dating back 19,000 years- what is now known as the longest continually habitat spot in North America (but very controversial for its time as the find predated all standard conventions).

Today the rockshelter is open for tours to learn about the excavations and the region's incredibly interesting history over the millennia.

The Significance of the Rockshelter

The Meadowcroft Rockshelter

So what made this spot so special over the years, you might ask?

Well, what makes the rockshelter near Avella interesting is that that geologists and archaeologists found evidence that the shelter itself was much larger thousands of years ago than it is today- allowing for a large number of people to gather, take shelter from the elements, and have a strategic lookout over the creek below.

It is theorized that Native Americans in the region would have been well aware of this geographical structure and they used it when traveling between modern day Ohio to the mountains of the Alleghenies.

Over time, the sandstone that made up part of the formation would fall down and bury items that were left behind. New visitors would come, drop more items, and the process repeated itself over and over again. All this came together to allow for a preserved site that is unlike any other in North America.

Wildflowers at Meadowcroft

While visiting, you are able to go out to the rockshelter and learn more about how scientists identified pieces from the different time periods, but sadly the museum does not currently have any of the artifacts found on display (so you'll only see them on video).

In either case, if archaeology, geology, or the region's long history is fascinating to you, this site is a must visit.

Trying to fell an Elk with Monongahela bow and arrow

Don't Miss the Meadowcroft Village as Well!

Monongahela Village at Meadowcroft

Earlier on in this article we mentioned that founder Albert Miller was also interested in preserving history of the region and began creating themed period Meadowcroft village on his property while waiting for an archaeologist to check out his rockshelter.

19th Century Meadowcroft Village

These grew and grew in size, and now the property features three themed village areas as well as a museum dedicated to the history of the region as well as Albert's own history racing horses.

The three themed areas are the 1600's Native American (“Indian”) village from the Monongahela tribe, the 1770s frontier trading post, and a 19th century historic village. Each has several building structures thought to be from the time (earlier years) to real buildings that Albert had moved himself (the latter frontier village)- including his old school from the early 1900s!

Meadowcroft Museum

While some of these villages could be considered a bit kitschy by modern standards, we have to say that the effort to preserve local history is a great one that we'll support all the same.

Whether you are interested in visiting Meadowcroft for the themed villages or the historic rockshelter, it is a spot that we are truly fortunate to have in Pittsburgh's backyard and we highly recommend a visit for all history buffs!

Meadowcroft Rockshelter is located at 401 Meadowcroft Road in Avella, PA and is open seasonally from May to October. Tours to the rockshelter are timed and may vary from day to day. During our visit tours were offered at 1pm, 2pm, and 4pm, but we recommend calling ahead of time to see if tour hours are posted. Allow for 2-3 hours for a complete visit and note that there are about 60 steps to climb when doing the rockshelter tour.

On your way back from Meadowcroft, swing by Cross Creek County Park or have lunch at Golden Pig in Cecil!

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