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.
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.
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.
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.