Native Americans inhabited a very large and diverse region. Their cultures, beliefs and traditions differed enormously across the continent. If one has visited a Native American village on one side of the continent (like the Oconalufteee Indian Village in Cherokee, North Carolina), it won’t say anything about another in another part of the country. Compare it with the ancestral Puebloans of the cliffs.
One Native American village to explore is the Monongahela Indian Village recreated by Meadowcroft in Pennsylvania. The village offers visitors a glimpse into the daily life of American Indians in the 16th century. It’s a time travel to a bygone world.
What to know about the Monongahela culture
The Monongahela culture was an Iroquoian Native American group of Late Forest peoples. This culture persisted from around AD 1050 to 1635 and was located in present-day western Pennsylvania, western Maryland, eastern Ohio, and West Virginia.
- Appointed: After the Monogahela River (where the majority of cultural sites are
- Location: Western Pennsylvania, western Maryland, eastern Ohio and West Virginia
The Monongahela lived in well-appointed villages and grew maize. Their villages could have as many as 50 to 100 structures – called wigwams. They seem to have died out in the first half of the 1600s – before there was any significant contact with the growing and expanding European settlements along the coast.
- Faded away: In the first half of the 1600s
- Cause: Possibly diseases, war and/or assimilation with neighboring tribes, droughts
- Droughts: Two severe droughts from 1587 to 1589 and another from 1607 to 1612
The cause of their disappearance is a matter of debate, some suggest infectious diseases (brought by Europeans) were the main factor, while others suggest they were assimilated by the Iroquois or Algonquian-speaking Lenape tribes during the war (or even killed by them). There are other suggestions like severe droughts – these could have driven people out of the area. Of course, none of these explanations should be mutually exclusive.
Explore Meadowcroft Indian Village
Today, you can delve into the past and discover this lost Native American culture at the Indian village of Meadowcroft. Here, visitors can explore the interiors of recreated wigwams and peruse meticulously recreated prehistoric artifacts. Discover a hunting camp filled with an assortment of hunting tools, fishing gear and furs.
- Wigwams: Native American shelters in the region
You will also learn about Native American agriculture. The village is also interactive and visitors can try their hand at using an atlatl. An altatl is a prehistoric spear thrower that Native Americans in the area used to hunt mammals, waterfowl, and even fish.
- Altalt: Try using an Altalt – A prehistoric spear thrower
A larger amusement complex
Meadowcroft Indian Village is one of Meadowcroft’s many attractions. The site is important for both Native American history and early European expansion. Other attractions include:
Meadowcroft Rock Shelter:
The Meadowcroft Rock Shelter is believed to be the oldest site of continuous human habitation in North America. It has been carefully studied and has many important artifacts. The roof of the shelter collapsed thousands of years ago, preserving the Rockshelter artifacts.
Border trading post:
At the Frontier Trading Post, visitors can see the story of the arrival of the first European settlers to western Pennsylvania in the 18th century. Hear how the Old and New Worlds collided at the border as Europeans and Africans encountered the Iroquoian-speaking Lenape, Shawnee, and Mingoe.
- To see: A frontier trading post from the 1770s
- To learn: About the Challenges of European and Indigenous Encounters
The story is not entirely conflicted, see how Native Americans traded furs and buckskins for European goods. See how Europeans adopted native cultures and other things from the first inhabitants. The Frontier Trading Post dates to the 1770s and features a typical European trading shelter in this part of Pennsylvania.
Meadowcroft Historic Village:
Fast forward to the 1800s and when the area was fully settled by Europeans and the area was a center of coal mining. The Historic Villages of Meadowcroft preserves this heritage with a collection of 19th century artifacts and structures.
- Watch: A Blacksmith Forge Ret-Hot Iron
- Train yourself: In a one-room school
See nearby Greene County’s Pine Bank Covered Bridge, a slated for demolition barn, and a period log home. Historic Meadowcroft Village has been open to the public since 1969 and is a place to walk through a recreated Ohio Upper Valley village.
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