In the earliest times, inhabitants of the North American continent appear to have been through the area of what is now Pennsylvania on hunting expeditions, and to have located in small villages that were occupied for a few years at a time, until their resources grew strained and the early inhabitants moved on. The area of Avella, PA, revealed a site excavated in the early 1970′s that contains the oldest signs of habitation on this continent, dating back at least 16000 years.
Meadowcroft Rockshelter archaeological site has revealed the earliest evidence of people in North America, dating back 16,000 years.
The Rockshelter, named a National Historic Landmark in 2005, has provided archaeologists with a rare glimpse into the lives of the first people to arrive in the New World.
As agriculture developed, the early American natives settled into more established occupied areas, leaving the life of constant moving to hunt. The parties that went out from growing villages used the paths of earlier successful expeditions but did not occupy them constantly.
The rock ledge was used by later inhabitants, but its peculiar basin filled in with rock dust from the sandstone shelter above it, and artifacts were preserved. A point named after the original discoverer of the site, Albert Miller, has been a milestone of the practice of archaeology that excavators used to uncover the extensive findings here.
The excavation done in SW PA has been protected from further inroads of weathering by the building constructed to contain it. The layers of sandstone have worn down over a period of about 40,000 years to reach their present state. Around the original site, settlements of early dwellers gave way to the European arrivals and grew into present day towns and uses. The hilly and rocky features acted to keep intensive use from overriding its early uses so that discoveries have been possible. There are many agricultural communities of varying character throughout the areas of early inhabitation that yield evidence of earlier cultures, throughout the U.S. The artifacts found from tribal societies continue to reveal evidence of the ways they lived, hunted, and celebrated their lives.
At the Smithsonian Institution, where some Meadowcroft exhibits also occur, a wall in the American Native Museum shows many varieties of the early points used in hunting as well as artifacts that indicate their arts and practices.