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12 May

That's the surprise of Pennsylvania's Meadowcroft Rockshelter, an inviting sandstone overhang in a tributary valley of the Ohio River that's been welcoming fishers, hunters and travelers since the Paleo-Indians.

The site in Avella, 30 miles southwest of Pittsburgh, is now a National Historic Landmark, set amid towering sycamore and pawpaw trees.

"I never told another person, knowing that if word got out, pick-and-shovel 'pot hunters' would quickly destroy the archaeological value of this rock shelter.

An archaeological site is like reading a book written long ago.

It remained more than 93 miles south of the ice front.

Permanent springs to the east and west made it ideal for hunter-gatherers to stay for a few days or to set up a fall hunting camp.

Carnegie Museum of Natural History staff tried a test unit in 1967.

We can still see a deer rib bone sticking out of the rock, proof that Indians butchered their kill here about 40,000 years ago. As Adovasio and his students bore down into the layers of silt, the cultural evidence kept getting older and older.

By the time they hit bedrock about 15 feet down Adovasio was sending specimens for carbon dating and the word back was staggering: at least 16,000 to 17,000 years old.

Its 52 carbon dates, in almost perfect stratigraphic order, reflect a continuous human record for 16,000-plus years.

"It was like a Paleo motel," guide Eleanor Crowe said.