Places to go and things to see by Gypsy Bev

Posts tagged ‘Meadowcroft Rockshelter’

Monongahela Indian Village at Meadowcroft

Indian Wigwams

Indian Wigwams

Inside the wigwam centers around a fireplace.

The wigwam centers around a fireplace.

If you want to see how Indians lived over 500 years ago, take a peek inside the walls of the Monongahela Indian village. Located at Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village near Avella, Pennsylvania, the village provides a place to see what Indian life was like back in 1590. Tall branches, placed so close together that nothing could get through, surround the village. Only a narrow opening permitted entrance to the inside, making the village well protected and easily defended.

Home was a wigwam constructed over a frame of flexible young saplings. Bark woven with cattails covered the outside, while the inside was lined with bark. Furnishings were sparse. A raised platform, which served as a place to sit during the day and a place to sleep during the night, rested against a wall. Quite often a family of nine would live here.

Hunting camp with tools for hunting and fishing

Hunting camp with tools for hunting and fishing

Their hunting camp displayed several of the tools used for hunting and fishing. The guides passed around various animal skins so their softness could be felt.  The silky fur of a river otter felt the softest of all.

Three Sisters Garden

Three Sisters Garden

Gardens played an extremely important role in their life, with women being the gardeners. Their three main crops carried the name “The Three Sisters”. These three crops: corn, beans, and squash, depended on each other. The corn provided a stalk for the beans to wrap around, while the large leaves of the squash gave needed shade to keep the soil moist.

Being in charge of gardens by clearing the land of trees became the first order of business for the Indian woman. They killed the trees by hitting them with stones. Then pulled up the weeds as they loosened the soil with sharp stones. After planting the seeds, each hill of corn would be fertilized with one fish.

Protecting the garden was vital so they built an 8′-10′ fence with a lookout tower. Women and children took turns watching so neither man not beast could take their vegetables.

Atlatl Practice Area

Atlatl Practice Area

Hunting became the man’s contribution. Early hunting parties used an atlatl, which consisted of a handle with a hook or notch that propelled a spear with a swinging motion. Its pointed arrowhead succeeded in killing animals needed for food.

With the use of the atlatl,  hunters could throw the spear farther with more force than a regular arm motion. It took practice to hit the mark. Later bows and arrows became common.

A visit to Meadowcroft ensures a look into the past. The Smithsonian Institution has named it one of the  “Five Great Places to See Evidence of First Americans.”  Start your day at the Visitors’ Center to watch a film about the complex. Then visit each of the four special areas: Meadowcroft Rockshelter, Monogahela Indian Village, Frontier Area, and a Rural Village. Step back in time and enjoy the day.

Meadowcroft Rockshelter is found near Avella, PA off the beaten path. Your easiest bet might be to have your GPS guide you to 401 Meadowcroft Road in Avella, PA.

Meadowcroft Rockshelter Holds Early American History

Meadowcroft Welcome Center

Meadowcroft Welcome Center

This is no ordinary tourist spot! Near Avella, PA, hidden away in the mountains, stands a welcome center for the Meadowcroft Rockshelter. Go inside and watch a short video to hear the beginning of this 16,000 year old story. One visitor commented, “We wanted to see one of the oldest spots of human habitation in the United States.”

The site was first discovered back in 1950 by owner of the ground, Albert Miller. He had found some projectile points on his farm while taking a walk, but one day noticed a small artifact by a groundhog hole and decided to dig there. When Albert found bits of pottery and arrowheads buried, he felt like he was tearing pages out of a book, so the proper history could be read.

Dr. J.M. Adovasio from the University of Pittsburgh became interested and conducted the first professional research at the site.  More recent digs have been conducted by Adovasio at Mercyhurst Archaeological Institute using state-of-the-art equipment. It is considered to be one of the most carefully excavated sites in North America.

This rockshelter overhang provided shelter, as well as a vantage point, for early inhabitants from the time of George Washington back to 16,000 years ago. Archaeologists are studying traces of what those early cultures left behind so we can perhaps better understand those early people who lived in America.

Rockshelf Shelter

Stairs to Rockshelf Shelter

Getting out of your car at the Rockshelter, your eyes climb upward to the observation deck that has been built so visitors can get a closer look at the archaeological work being done. While today there is a long stairway for easy access, about ten years ago anyone wishing to climb to the rockshelter had to use a rope to help pull themselves up.

Archaeological Dig Site

Archaeological Dig Site

After a long climb to the top, visitors can see evidence of tools and campfires made by those early inhabitants thousands of years ago. The deck allows visitors to witness “Deep Hole”, where the oldest evidence exists. Rocks fell from the cliff above to cover many of the pieces of the past that are being uncovered today.

At the center of the dig, a fireplace was carefully excavated showing layers to make you smile. Starting at the top there was a layer of plastic bottles, then cans, beer and whiskey bottles, and finally clay bottles. This fireplace area was obviously used for relaxation purposes for generations.

These layers coincided with the people who stayed under this shelter for various reasons. Starting today and going back to George Washington’s time describes the most recent layers. Those deep layers describe life 16,000 years ago. While there is some skepticism over dates, they all admit that it was thousands of years ago.

View of Tags in Dig Site

View of Tags in Dig Site

Each find has been carefully tagged from spear points and arrowheads to bone fragments. This is one of the first sites that used computers in the archaeological field.  It is easy to see that much patience is needed in order to conduct this type of investigation. Sometimes they might work for months with a single-edge razor blade to scrape the rock from a piece of history.

Cross Creek

Cross Creek

After the climb back down, now the look at the Rockshelter gives you an idea of its purpose. The top seems a perfect place for a lookout to watch for approaching enemies, while under the rock cliff would be the perfect shelter for camping. Cross Creek cuts through the valley, and most likely cut through the sandstone surface of the rockcliff to help make it what it is today.

Searching for the past, helps us better understand the present.

Meadowcroft Rockshelter is found near Avella, PA off the beaten path. Your easiest bet might be to have your GPS guide you to 401 Meadowcroft Road in Avella, PA.

Or you can  take exit 17, Jefferson Ave (old exit 6) off I-70 West in Washington, PA. At the bottom of the ramp turn right. At the second light turn right onto Jefferson Ave. At the next light bear left onto 844. Follow 844 for 11 1/2 miles to the junction of 844 and 231 (just past Breezy Heights restaurant and driving range). Turn right onto 231 North. Go 1 1/2 miles to junction of 231 and 50. Turn left onto 50 West. Proceed 1 9/10 miles and turn right onto Fallen Timber Road. Go 1 3/10 miles and turn left onto Meadowcroft Road. Proceed 9/10 of a mile to Meadowcroft entrance on right. 

 

 

 

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