Meadowcroft Rockshelter

Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village

Useful Information

Location: At Avella, signposted. Cross Creek, Washington County 55 km from Pittsburgh, 43 km from Wheeling.
(40.286378, -80.488889)
Open: MAY Sat 12-17, Sun 13-17.
Memorial Day to Labor Day Wed-Sat 12-17, Sun 13-17.
SEP to OCT Sat 12-17, Sun 13-17.
Fee: Adults USD 10, Children (6-16) USD 5, Children (0-5) free, Seniors USD 9.
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension: L=6 m, W=15 m, H=14m
Guided tours:  
Address: Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Museum of Rural Life, 401 Meadowcroft Road, Avella, PA 15312, Tel: +1-724-587-3412.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.


1955 discovered by landowner Albert Miller.
1973 start of excavation by Dr. James Adovasio from the University of Pittsburgh.
1978 end of excavation.
1983 excavation.
1985 excavation.
1987 excavation.
1990s limited excavation.
2000s limited excavation.
2003 first public tours.
2007 closed for renovation.
MAY-2008 reopened to the public.


The Meadowcroft Rockshelter is a shallow cave overlooking Cross Creek in Washington County. This location is believed to be the earliest site of human habitation in North America. With its excavation it reshaped thought on what prehistoric people first came to North America and when.

Until now the excavation has been closed to the public, accessible and even known only to archaeologists. But some years ago the scientists started to do tours for booked groups, in order to make their work more publicly known. Now the archaeological excavations ended, the site was completely renovated and opened for tourists. There is a sort of wooden cave house, a block house built into the rock face, which protects the small cave from weather and also houses a small museum. They use overhead stage lights which are turned on and off to show interesting locations.

Visitors are shown a seven minute video about the archaeological site, which explains basic facts about the site and the excavations. This takes place in the Visitor Center, which is nearby. After the video the visitors have to drive down the hill with their own car and climb 95 steps to the rock shelter. Here guides wait, which explain where certain features were found, how they got there, and how they are interpreted. They also answer questions of the visitors. There are two platforms which allow a view on the excavation site from two angles.

The development of the site cost USD 1.3 million. Now the National Historic Landmark is protected from weather and vandalism and at the same time starts to become a tourist destination. The complete name is Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Museum of Rural Life because it is now part of a sort of open air museum with two topics, a Pioneer and an Indian Village. This museum with the name Meadowcroft was founded by two brothers, the farmers Albert and Delvin Miller. They purchased 80 ha of abandoned coal mine from a coal company and opened a youth camp in the early 1960s. They began moving historical buildings to the site and in 1969, Meadowcroft Village opened with 20 rural buildings from the 1800s. Today the attractions include a log cabin, a covered bridge, a single room school, a blacksmith shop, a 1941 barbershop, a caboose, farm implements and a log church. They operate in association with the Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania's largest history museum. The second part of the museum, a 17th-century woodlands Indian camp is still under development [2008].

Around 14,000 B.C. Ice Age hunters - so-called Paleo-Indians - used the small cave as a temporary campsite. The place was convenient, as it faces to the south, catches breezes and sits 15 m above Cross Creek offering a nice view on the prey. And a special highlight: there are two springs for drinking water. At this time the cave was larger, rocks from the ceiling fell to the cave's floor, covered the remains and protected them from weathering. After the excavation are now reddish stains which mark fire pits. There are deer bones and mussel shells which can be seen in the remaining layers of debris. Hundreds of circular tags were fixed by the archaeologists to mark the layers.

This site was discovered by the landowner Albert Miller in 1955. One day he stumbled over a groundhog hole and used a shovel to enlarge it. He was astonished when he found a flint knife, burnt bone and flint. Actually he did the best thing possiblle in such a case: he filled in the hole and searched for an archaeologist to excavate the site. But it took many years, until 1973 that excavations started. Dr. James Adovasio from the University of Pittsburgh started with the excavation and after years of work and up to 5 m deep holes, the site had revealed the largest collection of plant and animal remains in a single place in North America. 20,000 human artifacts, 956,000 animal bones of 149 animal species and 1.4 million plant remains including seeds, fruits, pollen, wood and charcoal were unearthed.

This site was most likely used only by hunting parties, there is no evidence of a permanent settlement. There are no burials, human remains or permanent fixtures. It was used primarily in the autumn. Radiocarbon (C14) dating at the Smithsonian Institution determined that humans had lived here as early as 16,000 years ago.