10 great places to dig deep into our shared human past

— -- To know where we're going, it's sometimes best to know where those who went before us have been. So with October being Archaeology Month, this is as good a time as any to follow in the path of our early ancestors. Brian Fagan, archaeologist and author of many popular books on the topic (brianfagan.com), shares his list of finds with Kathy Baruffi for USA TODAY.

Historic Jamestowne Virginia

"You can visit the excavations that recently exposed James Fort at this first permanent English settlement in North America," Fagan says. "Founded by settlers on May 14, 1607, it was the capital of the Virginia Colony for 93 years." A newly opened site museum documents the lives of America's first colonists. Visit nearby Colonial Williamsburg for a complete immersion in our early history. 757-229-1733; historicjamestowne.org

L'Anse aux Meadows Newfoundland, Canada

"Founded by the Norse in the 990s, this is the first European settlement in North America," Fagan says. "A museum and reconstruction provide a vivid impression of life in a remote encampment in an alien land." Allow an extra day and take the ferry to Red Bay, across the Strait of Belle Isle in Labrador, to see a 16th-century Basque whaling encampment, complete with shipwrecks. 709-623-2608; pc.gc.ca/lhn-nhs/nl/meadows

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump Alberta, Canada

"For thousands of years, Plains Indians hunted buffalo here, driving them into a natural basin behind a precipitous cliff, then stampeding them to their deaths below," Fagan says. "A beautifully designed site museum reconstructs details of more than 7,000 years of bison hunts and the lives of those who killed and butchered the great beasts. You also get to see details of the excavations that exposed the thick layers of bison bones under the cliff." 403-553-2731 head-smashed-in.com

Vindolanda Northumberland, England

"Hadrian's Wall was the most remote frontier in the Roman Empire of the second century," Fagan says. "Thanks to imaginative conservation, you can explore long lengths of the wall and its forts, notably around Housesteads. The nearby frontier post at Vindolanda offers an evocative impression of a Roman soldier's life in hostile country." View the ongoing excavations at Vindolanda and visit the Roman Army Museum. vindolanda.com

Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site Collinsville, Ill.

"Climb to the top of what was once a temple mound, the height of a modern-day 10-story building and the largest ancient earthwork ever constructed in the Americas," Fagan says. "A thousand years ago, a powerful chiefdom flourished in the Mississippi bottomlands in the area of present-day Collinsville," near St. Louis. Earth was carried in woven baskets to create the 100-foot-high Monks Mound and other mounds. 618-346-5160; cahokiamounds.com

Hopewell Culture National Historical Park Chillicothe, Ohio

"The people of the Hopewell culture in what is now Ohio were hunter/gatherers who enjoyed an elaborate ceremonial life and burial rituals, reflected in mysterious and still-little-understood earthworks and burial mounds built between 200 B.C. and 500 A.D.," Fagan says. "The site offers an excellent introduction to this remarkable Native American society." 740-774-1126; nps.gov/hocu

Fort Mose Historic State Park Near St. Augustine, Fla.

"The first free African-American community in North America, this fort outside St. Augustine was a settlement for people fleeing slavery in the British Carolinas," Fagan says. "Storytellers and poets tell exciting stories of adventure and freedom in a Florida State Park that is a wonderful adventure walk." Although the fort no longer exists, the park's Visitor Center offers a glimpse into various stages of its history through exhibits and programs. 904-823-2232; floridastateparks.org/fortmose

Museum of Ontario Archaeology London, Ontario

This museum is beside the Lawson archaeological site, a 500-year-old Neutral Iroquoian village that is still being excavated. Arrowheads, pottery shards and a prized antler comb are among the artifacts on view. "Explore the history of this Iroquoian tribe by visiting the reconstruction of their longhouse," Fagan says. "Combine this with a visit to the Jesuit mission in Sainte-Marie Among the Hurons in Midland. The entire area is a chronicle of fur trading and missionary activity, which had profound effects on Native American culture." 519-473-1360; uwo.ca/museum

La Purisima Mission State Historic Park Lompoc, Calif.

Known as the "Williamsburg of the West," this mission is a jewel in the California state park system. "The 11th mission of the 21 Spanish missions in California, La Purisima became a school and training center for Chumash converts living on mission lands," Fagan says. "Nine buildings and their furnishings give an excellent impression of mission life in early California." 805-733-3713; lapurisimamission.org

Peche Merle Cabrerets, near Cahors, France

"One of the few Stone Age caves in France still open to visitors, Peche Merle offers a vivid excursion into the world of more than 25,000 years ago," Fagan says. "The paintings, including a famous spotted horse, are so fresh, it was as if they were painted yesterday. The cave's well-sited lights and excellent guides make this an evocative and memorable experience. If you visit one ancient cave art site, this should be it." quercy.net/pechmerle/english/introduction.html