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Flood damage at historic Meadowcroft Rockshelter in Avella to be assessed

| Tuesday, July 30, 2013, 11:39 p.m.
Ed Massery
A team from Mercyhurst University plans to arrive in Washington County on Wednesday to assess what damage heavy rain inflicted on the archaeological remnants left by North America’s oldest human inhabitants at the Meadowcroft Rockshelter in Avella.

A team from Mercyhurst University plans to arrive in Washington County on Wednesday to assess what damage heavy rain inflicted on the archaeological remnants left by North America's oldest human inhabitants.

James M. Adovasio, provost and director of the Erie university's Archaeological Institute, will lead a team to re-excavate the Meadowcroft Rockshelter in Avella where four decades ago he discovered what is considered the earliest, well-dated archaeological site on the continent.

“The lower portions were substantially affected by the unexpected flooding,” Adovasio said.

Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village, located about 30 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, is managed by the Sen. John Heinz History Center.

Heavy rains have pelted Western Pennsylvania, including Meadowcroft, this month.

Floodwater caused extensive damage to a section of the excavated site dating back 3,000 to 10,000 years, Adovasio said.

He and a small team of researchers and students will recut the excavated area, restore the site's integrity and make it viewable again for the public. Work will take at least two weeks, he said.

A farmer discovered a prehistoric flint spear point at the site in 1955. An excavation in the 1970s led by Adovasio, then at the University of Pittsburgh, revealed that humans inhabited North America thousands of years earlier than researchers previously believed.

Evidence found at Meadowcroft showed human life existed there 16,000 years ago. The belief had been that ancestors to Native Americans crossed a frozen landmass covering the Bering Strait, which separates Russia and the United States, some 12,000 years ago.

Adovasio said the flood damage isn't all bad because it offers a chance for his team to better understand the transformation of hunters and gatherers to people who settled and built communities.

“It just happens that the time frame (with the damage) coincides with some of the most important times in the history of people in eastern North America,” he said. “We'll be able to better understand these periods.

“But given our druthers, we certainly wouldn't have done this right now.”

Jason Cato is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7936 or jcato@tribweb.com.

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