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Meadowcroft to reopen today

May 10, 2008
AVELLA, Pa. — The Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Museum of Rural Life will open to the public beginning today, but this season’s reopening of the rockshelter isn’t ordinary.

The rockshelter is reopening after being closed to the public for more than a year while a new enclosure has been built around the site of the ongoing archelogical excavation, according to Dave Scofield, director.

The new enclosure will allow visitors to the site more access and better viewing then was previously available. In addition, the museum worked with several watershed groups to stabilize the nearby embankment of Cross Creek, including a stone structure which helps direct the water’s course. The museum also planted several trees, including those which would have been used for food during prehistoric times, on the embankment, said Scofield.

The cost of the renovations was $1.3 million dollars, funded primarily through a Redevelopment Captial Assistance grant through the commonwealth. Other funding came through private and foundation donations and the Washington County hotel tax program, said Scofield.

The renovation to the rockshelter is just one of several improvement planned for over the next decade, he added.

Museum officials plan to build a recreation of a hunter-gatherer village, a Native American hunting camp and a pioneer farm in order to show how habitation developed in the area, said Scofield.

“Our emphasis is on the scientific discovery,” he said.

The rockshelter is the oldest site of human habitation in North America, and it was declared a national historic landmark in 2005, 50 years after it was discovered by Albert Miller, an amateur archeologist and local historian, in 1955 on the family farm which had been in the Millers’ possession since 1795.

Miller and his brother, Delvin Miller, owned an Avella-area farm which would later become the facility known as Meadowcroft and would include not only the rockshelter, but a number of historical structures brought to the property by Albert Miller, including a covered bridge. These structures, along with a recreation of a period blacksmithy, now make up Meadowcroft’s historical village, which is “inhabited” by reenactors.

Albert Miller first discovered the rockshelter when he noticed an animal burrow. He found several artifacts in and around the burrow.

“There were several artifacts, including an intact flint knife,” said Scofield.

Fearing if others found out about the artifacts, they would dig them up and destroy the site, Miller covered up the burrow and kept quiet about his discovery.

“Archelogists can find out things not just from the artifacts, but in the context of where they are found,” said Scofield, noting the site has revealed a great deal to scientists across a wide spectrum of disclipines, including geologist. The site also has a record of the area’s flora and fauna over the past 16,000 years, thanks to seed hulls and pollen found at the site.

Miller kept quiet about his discovery for nearly 20 years, until James Adovasio and his team of archeology students from the University of Pittsburgh arrived in 1973. Within a year, carbon dating of some of the artifacts recovered from the site led scientists to believe the rockshelter had been used either on a migratory or seasonal basis for approximately 16,000 years, pushing earlier estimates back by almost 4,000 years, according to Scofield.

“There was a lot of skeptism,” he said, adding the site is now believed to be a pre-Clovis era site with evidence of human habitation during every major time period since.

However, Scofield said the site has not yet given up all of its secrets.

“There’s more work to be done,” he said, noting a large part of the site hasn’t been excavated.

Meadowcroft is open between noon and 5 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Sunday through Memorial Day, and between noon and 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Sunday from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for children 6 through 16 and free for children 5 and under.

(Wallace-Minger can be contacted at

Article Photos

REOPENING – Dave Scofield, Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Museum of Rural Life director, poses in front of the rockshelter, which will reopen to the public today after a year of renovations. -- Summer Wallace-Minger

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