Behold The Sands Of Time
September 14, 2013

Behold The Sands Of Time

Mankind enjoys looking towards the future, and why not? The future is full of the unknown and the exciting. The future can be molded, changed, based on our actions. The future is a stretch of endless possibilities just waiting for us. However, in looking towards the future, it can be crucial to take a step back every once in a while and look to the past. I remember a history teacher back in high school telling me once “those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” Wise words. Not his own, unfortunately, but those of Winston Churchill. Wise words nonetheless.

In the Meadowcroft Rockshelter in Avella, PA, archeologists are getting a unique view of the past by studying the layers of sand that have been falling down onto the cavern floor from a cliff overhead for the past 16,000 years. Various samples taken at varying layers can tell archeologists a great deal about what the world was like so long ago. Much like the rings on a tree, the layers of sand act as an indicator of just how far back it goes. Using modern science, we are able to collect a great deal of information about what went on all of those centuries ago, what has changed in that time, and more. By looking at the remains of the plant life they discover within the layers, they can determine what the vegetation was like in that region many years ago and how it differs from what is found there today. The same is true of insect life and other animals. By looking at the frequency in which the site was used by people, theories of population density can be formed. Climate change can also be judged. All in all, the site acts much like a time capsule, showing us a peek into the past.

Originally discovered in 1973, the Meadowcroft Rockshelter study came under some heavy criticism early on when Dr. Adovasio‘s radiocarbon dating suggested that Native American remains found there were more than 12,000 years old, going against wide-held belief (at the time) to the contrary. In 2005, the site was named a National Historic Center thanks to the National Science Foundation and the Heinz History Center. Recently, the Meadowcroft Rockshelter was in the news when Avella, PA had an unusual amount of rainfall. The site where archeologists had been working was damaged by the water, forcing the team to cut a new section out for study. However, this may have been a blessing in disguise for the researchers, as the former area had been under study for nearly four decades. Cutting into this new section, using equipment and techniques unavailable back then, may lead the team to new discoveries, as well as correcting previously incorrect assumptions regarding the site.

Sites like the Meadowcroft Rockshelter are incredibly valuable for learning about the past. Our past. The past of our home planet. With that learning comes understanding. An understanding of what? Well, if I knew the answer to that question, I would not have needed to ask it.

Image Credit: Suzanne Tucker / Shutterstock

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