Rock shelter

A rock shelter — also rockhouse, crepuscular cave, bluff shelter, or abri — is a shallow cave-like opening at the base of a bluff or cliff. In contrast to solutional cave (karst) caves, which are often many miles long, rock shelters are almost always modest in size and extent.

Indian Cave
The rock shelter for which Indian Cave State Park is named.
Rock shelter Papula
Rock shelter in the Little Carpathians


Rock shelters form because a rock stratum such as sandstone that is resistant to erosion and weathering has formed a cliff or bluff, but a softer stratum, more subject to erosion and weathering, lies just below the resistant stratum, and thus undercuts the cliff.

In arid areas, wind erosion (Aeolian erosion) can be an important factor in rockhouse formation. In most humid areas, the most important factor in rockhouse formation is frost spalling, where the softer, more porous rock underneath is pushed off, tiny pieces at a time, by frost expansion from water frozen in the pores. Erosion from moving water is seldom a significant factor.

Many rock shelters are found under waterfalls.

Rock shelter formation by karst gallery cutting

By cutting a karst gallery

Human habitat

Shepherds' rock shelter, Lahaul
Shepherds' rock shelter in Lahaul, India

Rock shelters are often important archaeologically. Because rock shelters form natural shelters from the weather, prehistoric humans often used them as living-places, and left behind debris, tools, and other artifacts. In mountainous areas the shelters can also be important for mountaineers.

Transhumant nomads, people who move with their livestock - often from lower permanent winter residences in the valleys to higher summer pastures - frequently build semi-permanent camps, often of rocks.

In western Connecticut and eastern New York, many rock shelters are known by the colloquialism "leatherman caves",[1] as they were inhabited by the Leatherman over three decades in the late 19th century.

Unique vegetation

The Cumberland stitchwort (Minuartia cumberlandensis) is an endangered species of plant which is found only in rock shelters in Kentucky and Tennessee.[2]

Rock shelter at
Strouds Run State Park

See also


  1. ^ CT Museum: Leatherman Caves
  2. ^ Center for Plant Conservation Archived 2010-12-15 at the Wayback Machine

External links

Betal Rock Shelter

Betal Rock Shelter (Slovene: Betalov spodmol), a karst cave located on the south-eastern edge of the Lower Pivka river valley on a slope just above the road from Postojna to Bukovje is a site, where rich cultural sediment layers with remains of stone tools, artifacts and numerous fossilized bones of contemporary animals were found. Its entrance has been formed by the collapse of the 174 m (571 ft) long cave's ceiling, carved out by the waters of the Pivka river.

The first excavations were carried out by Franco Anelli from 1933 to 1939. He excavated both in the cave and in front of it and found a large number of Palaeolithic artifacts and numerous faunal remains, although this work remained mainly unpublished. Systematic recording of the archaeological sequence was begun anew by Srečko Brodar from 1947 to 1953. In the more than 10 meters (33 ft) deep profile of eight cultural horizons five separate strata revealed the bones of over 2,400 animals and stone tools. However, large amounts of the material in the Late Pleistocene and early Holocene sediments found by Anelli is of limited value for scientific research and cannot be put into its correct stratigraphic context as the excavation records of these layers are lost.The oldest strata are attributed to the warm Mindel-Riss interglacial period followed by the Riss glaciation period, that consisted of rock debris mixed with loam and pieces of sinter. In it proto-Mousterian stone tools and the fossilized bones of a Deninger's bear have been found, dated to an age of 300,000 years. The next strata of red loam and debris contained faunal bone fossils from Cave bear (Ursus spelaeus), wolf, the Alpine marmot, the Merck's rhinoceros, the Cave hyena, wild boar, and elk. The stone tool assemblage discovered in this stratum has been assigned to the Homo neanderthalensis Mousterian culture. The following strata also held Pleistocene faunal remains, particularly those of the Alpine marmot, of reindeer and Cave bear. The presence of these fossils points to a deposition during the last glacial period, the Würm glaciation, which lasted from 110,000 to 11,700 years ago. This layer included numerous tool flakes created through flint knapping by Neanderthal occupants and modern humans, who account for the few tools of Gravettian culture. The uppermost stratum includes Neolithic tools and the fossilized bones of wild boar, wolf and beaver, whose presence suggests the establishment of the most recent Holocene climate. The top coat of this stratum carried Bronze Age and Iron Age tools, artifacts, pottery shards and the skeletal remains of domesticated animals.Betal Rock Shelter has been declared a "monument of local importance" of Slovenia and was induced in the national register of Immovable Cultural Heritage under the number 859 on December 22, 1984.

Cap Blanc rock shelter

The abri de Cap Blanc is a prehistoric limestone rock shelter with Magdalenian animal sculptures. It is in the Marquay commune on the right bank of the Beune River, a few kilometers west of Eyzies-de-Tayac, in Dordogne.

Cave of Aurignac

The Cave of Aurignac is an archaeological site in the commune of Aurignac, Haute-Garonne department in southwestern France. Sediment excavation and artefact documentation since 1860 confirm the idea of the arrival and permanent presence of European early modern humans during the Upper Palaeolithic. The eponymous location represents the type site of the Aurignacian, the earliest known culture attributed to modern humans in western Eurasia. Assemblages of Aurignacian tool making tradition can be found in the cultural sediments of numerous sites from around 45,000 years BP to around 26,000 years BP. In recognition of its significance for various scientific fields and the 19th century pioneering work of Édouard Lartet the Cave of Aurignac was officially declared a national Historic Monument of France by order of May 26, 1921.

Cro-Magnon rock shelter

Cro-Magnon ( (listen), US: ; French: Abri de Cro-Magnon French pronunciation: ​[kʁomaɲɔ̃]) is an Aurignacian (Upper Paleolithic) site, located in a rock shelter at Les Eyzies, a hamlet in the commune of Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil, Dordogne, southwestern France.Abri de Cro-Magnon is part of the UNESCO World Heritage of the Prehistoric Sites and Decorated Caves of the Vézère Valley.Most notably, it is the site of the discovery of anatomically modern human remains, apparently buried at the site, dated to about 28,000 years ago.

Diepkloof Rock Shelter

Diepkloof Rock Shelter is a rock shelter in Western Cape, South Africa in which has been found some of the earliest evidence of the human use of symbols, in the form of patterns engraved upon ostrich eggshell water containers. These date around 60,000 years ago.The symbolic patterns consist of lines crossed at right angles or oblique angles by hatching. It has been suggested that "by the repetition of this motif, early humans were trying to communicate something. Perhaps they were trying to express the identity of the individual or the group."

Hidden Valley Rockshelter

The Hidden Valley Rockshelter (44-BA-31) is a significant archaeological site located near the community of Warm Springs in Bath County, Virginia, United States. A large rockshelter located near the Jackson River, it has been occupied by humans for thousands of years, and it has been named a historic site.

La Grange Rock Shelter

The LaGrange Rock Shelter is an archaeological site located on private property between Leighton and Muscle Shoals in Colbert County, Alabama near the original campus of LaGrange College. The shelter measures 70 feet long by 15 feet deep (21m by 4.5m) and is located beneath a sandstone outcrop overlooking a dense series of Paleoindian sites in the valley below, which may have led to it being chosen for excavation.Excavations of the site occurred over two seasons, beginning in 1972 with Charles Hubbert as principal investigator and ending in 1975 with Vernon J. Knight Jr as principal investigator, with both seasons under the direction of David L. DeJarnette of the University of Alabama. Lower levels of the shelter produced charcoal samples that were radiocarbon dated to approximately 11,280 BC, placing estimates of the site's habitation within what is believed to be the Paleoindian Period. At the time of the discovery, only one other site east of the Mississippi River had been dated to that age.The charcoal consisted of small flecks associated with light debitage below a definitive Early Archaic to Late Paleoindian (Dalton culture) zone. After careful consideration, DeJarnette and Knight suggested that the charcoal originated from an upper level and migrated to the lower level due to breakdown of the original shelter floor. Although the Paleoindian date may be questioned, the site also contained a remarkable Early Archaic burial, one of the oldest burials uncovered in the State of Alabama.The site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

Levi Rock Shelter

The Levi Rock Shelter, named for former property owner Malcolm Levi, is an archeological site west of Austin, Texas where Paleo-Indian Native American artifacts dating back 10,000 years or more have been discovered.

Located along Lick Creek, the site was discovered in the mid-1950s and is believed to be the 7th-oldest paleolithic site in the United States. Many artifacts have been uncovered there, including Clovis points, carved bone cylinders, scrapers, awls, needles, punches, and incised and painted pebbles. Many are now in the care of the University of Texas.

The site, and its adjoining creek, are believed by local activists to be threatened by nearby development. The shelter was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.

Marmes Rockshelter

The Marmes Rockshelter (also known as (45-FR-50)) is an archaeological site first excavated in 1962, near the confluence of the Snake and Palouse Rivers, in Franklin County, southeastern Washington. This rockshelter is remarkable in the level of preservation of organic materials, the depth of stratified deposits, and the apparent age of the associated Native American human remains. The site was discovered on the property of Roland Marmes, and was the site of the oldest human remains in North America at that time. In 1966, the site became, along with Chinook Point and the American and English Camps on San Juan Island, the first National Historic Landmarks listed in Washington. In 1969, the site was submerged in water when a levee protecting it from waters rising behind the then newly constructed Lower Monumental Dam, which was 20 miles (32 km) down the Snake River, failed to hold back water that leaked into the protected area through gravel under the soil, creating Lake Herbert G. West.

Meadowcroft Rockshelter

Meadowcroft Rockshelter is an archaeological site located near Avella in Jefferson Township, Washington County, Pennsylvania, United States. The site is a rock shelter in a bluff overlooking Cross Creek (a tributary of the Ohio River), and contains evidence that the area may have been continually inhabited for more than 19,000 years. If accurately dated, the site would be the earliest known evidence of human presence and the longest sequence of continuous human occupation in the New World.The site is located 27 miles west-southwest of Pittsburgh in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area. The site operates as a division of the Heinz History Center of Pittsburgh and has a museum and a reconstruction of a circa 1570s Monongahela Culture Indian village. Meadowcroft Rockshelter is recognized as a National Historic Landmark, a Pennsylvania Commonwealth Treasure, and as an official project of Save America's Treasures.

Modoc Rock Shelter

The Modoc Rock Shelter is a rock cliff at the edge of the Mississippi River Valley that was undercut by Ice Age floods. This site is significant for its archaeological evidence of human habitation during the Archaic period in the Eastern United States. It is located on the northeastern side of County Road 7 (Bluff Road) southeast of Prairie du Rocher in Randolph County, Illinois, United States. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1961.

Mudgegonga rock shelter

The Mudgegonga rock shelter is a large rock overhang which contains over 400 Aboriginal wall paintings and stencils and evidence of prehistoric Aboriginal occupation. The site is located in north eastern Victoria near the town of Mudgegonga, and is associated with rich artefact deposits that shows occupation of the region by 3,500 years ago and may have been used several thousand years before this. It has been described as one of the richest rock art sites in Victoria.The paintings are ochre and pipeclay on rock and include the only painting of the potoroo species in Victoria. The artefact deposits associated with the shelter, which were composed predominantly of quartz, were subject to investigation by LaTobe university in the 1980s.Plans to undertake conservation works at the site resulted in controversy when Gary Murray, co-chairman of the Dhudhuroa Native Title Group, disputed claims of another Aboriginal group to make decisions about the site and lodged an application with Heritage Minister Peter Garrett to protect the site from "a threat of injury and desecration" due to assessment and restoration activities being planned by Aboriginal Affairs Victoria.


Ngườm is an archaeological site in Thái Nguyên Province, northern Vietnam. It is a rock shelter in a limestone cliff near the Thần Sa River that was excavated in 1981 by archaeologists from the Vietnam Institute of Archaeology. Flaked stone artefacts have been found in deposits containing shells with radiocarbon ages of 23,000 years ago. The site is important because of its unusually high proportion of retouched flakes in the stone artefact assemblage, relative to other sites in Southeast Asia.

Punk Rock Shelter

The Punk Rock Shelter (9PM211) was an archaeological site found in Putnam County, Georgia. The site flooded in 1979, putting it 65 feet (20 m) under Lake Oconee. It was not a rock shelter, but a jumble of granite boulders or tors. These tors happened to create a shelter-like area. Due to poor land management in the 19th and 20th century associated with cotton farming, the shelter floor area is now underneath at least a meter deep of red clay and silt mud. The Native Americans at the site were most likely Hitchiti in ancestry.


Raymonden is a prehistoric cave near Chancelade in the French département Dordogne. The cave was inhabited during the Upper Paleolithic and contained, besides lots of artefacts, a human skeleton.

Rop rock shelter

The Rop rock shelter is an archaeological site on the Jos Plateau of Nigeria.

There are two layers containing artifacts.

The first holds large scrapers and backed crescent-shaped stone tools.

The later (upper) layer is about 2000 years old, and contains backed microlithic tools and pottery.

The shelter is about 50km south of Jos.The site was excavated by Bernard Fagg in 1944.

He discovered microliths, fragments of ground stone axes, two bored stones, one grooved stone, rubbed hematites and many potsherds.

The lower, undated layer held relatively crude implements, apart from the rough crescents.

The later layer held higher-quality microliths, geometrical forms and small points, as well as pottery.

This later layer only covers part of the site.

A skeleton was also found in a shallow grave, dated to around 25 BCE

From the teeth, it appeared that the owner had lived largely on a starchy, plant-based diet.

A single equid tooth was found with the same age based on its position in the stratum.

Smith Rock Shelter

The Smith Rock Shelter is a natural limestone overhang in McKinney Falls State Park near Austin, Texas. The shelter is believed to have been used by Native Americans from 500 BCE until the 18th century. The last known occupants were related to the Tonkawa. It is accessible via the 0.8 mile round-trip Smith Rockshelter Trail in the park.

The shelter abuts Onion Creek and is one of two natural rock shelters in Travis County to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places (the other is the Levi Rock Shelter). Smith Rock Shelter was added to the Register on October 1, 1974.

Trnovec, Kočevje

Trnovec (pronounced [təɾˈnoːʋəts]; German: Tiefenreuther or Tiefenreuter) is a settlement in the hills northeast of the town of Kočevje in southern Slovenia. It was a village inhabited by Gottschee Germans. At the start of the Second World War its original population was evicted. The area is part of the traditional region of Lower Carniola and is now included in the Southeast Slovenia Statistical Region.


Warratyi is the site of a prehistoric rock shelter in the Flinders Ranges in South Australia. Located around 550 kilometres (340 mi) north of Adelaide and about 200 kilometres (120 mi) inland, it has been identified as the oldest known site of human habitation in inland Australia. Newspapers reported that this rock shelter was discovered by chance in 2011 by a local resident who stumbled upon it while looking for somewhere to go to the toilet. Researchers found thousands of artefacts and bone fragments, which enabled them to date the shelter's occupation to a number of periods between 49,000 and 10,000 years ago. The finds include the earliest evidence in Australia of the development of bone and stone-axe technology, the use of ochre, and interaction with megafauna such as Diprotodon.

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