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Meadowcroft Rockshelter (USA)

Preclovis Site in Pennsylvania


Entrance to Meadowcroft Rockshelter

Entrance to Meadowcroft Rockshelter

Lee Paxton
Meadowcroft Rockshelter was one of the first archaeological sites in the United States to contain evidence of pre-Clovis populations, and as such it has always been controversial. The site is located on the north bank of Cross Creek, a tributary of the Ohio River in Pennyslvania.

Eleven archaeological levels have been identified at Meadowcroft, ranging at least from 14,500 years ago through the mid-18th century AD. Because of the early dates and the perceived potential for contamination from bituminous coal in the cave, numerous radiocarbon dates--primarily AMS dates--have been taken, none of which appear to show evidence of that contamination.

The earliest component at Meadowcroft is called the Miller Complex, and artifacts associated with it show a sophisticated stone tool technology with unfluted bifacial points called Miller lanceolates. These and paleo-environmental reconstruction data suggest that the hunter-gatherers were using the rockshelter on an occasional basis some 14,000 years ago.

Meadowcroft Rockshelter was first reported in the late 18th century; excavations there have been conducted by James M. Adovasio and associates. Although the site created a substantial amount of controversy, Meadowcroft is still one of the most widely accepted preclovis sites, insofar as there can be such a thing.


Adovasio, J. M., J. Donahue, D. R. Pedler, and R. Stuckenrath 1998 Two decades of debate on Meadowcroft Rockshelter. North American Archaeologist 19(4):317-341.

Adovasio, James M. and Ronald C. Carlisle 1988 The Meadowcroft Rockshelter. Science 239:713-714.

Adovasio, James M., J. Donahue, and Robert Stuckenrath 1990 The Meadowcroft Rockshelter radiocarbon chronology 1975-1990. American Antiquity 55(2):348-354.

Haynes, C. V. 1991 More on Meadowcroft radiocarbon chronology. Review of Archaeology 12(1):8-14.

Tankersley, Kenneth B. and Cheryl A. Munson 1992 Comments on the Meadowcroft Rockshelter radiocarbon chronology and the recognition of coal contaminants. American Antiquity 57(2):321-326.

Tankersley, Kenneth B., Cheryl A. Munson, and Donald Smith 1987 Recognition of bituminous coal contaminants in radiocarbon samples. American Antiquity 52(2):318-330.

This glossary entry is part of the Dictionary of Archaeology.

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