Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village
A National Historic Landmark, the Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village is “the oldest site of human habitation in North America” (“Meadowcroft Rockshelter”) with archaeological evidence that dates back 16,000 years. Other Meadowcroft historic areas include a 16th century Indian Village, an 18th century Frontier Trading Post, and a 19th century village.
Backstory and Context
The Rockshelter’s history begins in 1955 when farmer Albert Miller found a prehistoric tool on his farm and knew it was something special. He searched for years for an archaeologist who would come out to investigate and it wasn't until 1973 that he found one when he met Dr. James Adovasio, a professor of archaeology at the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Adovasio identified the tool as a prehistoric flint knife and immediately assembled a team who studied the artifact and the surrounding land for 6 years, “finding two million artifacts and ecofacts, including ancient stone tools, pottery fragments, and evidence of ice-age fire pits” (“Meadowcroft Rockshelter”). Archaeological testing discovered that the property’s rock ledge overhang “served as a campsite for prehistoric hunters and gatherers 16,000 years ago” (“Meadowcroft Rockshelter”).
During the 1940s and 1950s, Miller’s farm was significantly altered by coal mining, but “Miller was determined to reclaim the land and restore it to a new place where youth groups could camp and learn about history and the natural environment” (“Meadowcroft Historic Village”). Miller began to collect 19th century rural architecture pieces and he opened the village to the public in 1969. Today, visitors can interact with real life re-enactors and see an authentic 1-room schoolhouse, an 1870s log cabin, and a blacksmith to reenact and illustrate the trade.
The Trails to Trains display highlights the history of transportation in Southern Pennsylvania. Visitors can “Trailblaze 16,000 years of transportation history beginning with our prehistoric predecessors using foot power to navigate the rugged terrain surrounding the Meadowcroft Rockshelter, to the early days of the National Road, where Conestoga wagons dotted the landscape, to the use of the Stage coach to satisfy our need for speed, and finally to the development of the railroad as train rails cut through many rural Pennsylvania farmsteads” (“Trains to Trails”).
On display at the Indian Village is a wigwam decorated as it would have been in the 16th century, Indian artifacts, and architecture, as well as a traditional three sisters garden and a hunting camp complete with furs, hunting tools, and fishing equipment. Visitors have the chance to learn about and actually use an atlatl, an Indian spear thrower. Meadowcroft hosts an American Indian Heritage Weekend in September full of even more.
The old trading post marks the immigration and settling of the 1st European settlers to Western Pennsylvania in the 18th century. Two 1770 trading post structures illustrate what one looked like, what it contained, and how it functioned as a place of material and cultural exchange between natives and settlers.
The Rockshelter is also a stop along "A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison" Driving Tour. The archaeological site provides context for the Native American way of life during Mary’s captivity and assimilation into Native American culture. The Rockshelter is closely located to several of the areas that Mary makes mention of in her account of her life with the Native Americans. Both the 16th century Indian Village and the 18th century Frontier Trading Post historical areas at Meadowcroft, give visitors excellent context into many of the accounts James Seavers records in his narrative of Mary Jemison's life.
Cheney, Jim. "Visiting Meadowcroft Rockshelter: North America's oldest known site of human habitation." Uncovering PA. July 9, 2012. Accessed December 9, 2016. http://uncoveringpa.com/visiting-meadowcroft-rockshelter
"Meadowcroft Historic Village." Heinz History Center: Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village." Accessed December 9, 2016. http://www.heinzhistorycenter.org/exhibits/meadowcroft-historic-village
Moyer, Steve. "The First Americans." Humanities. April, 2014. Accessed December 9, 2016. https://www.neh.gov/humanities/2014/marchapril/feature/the-first-americans
"National Historic Landmark Nomination." United States Department of the Interior/National Park Service. 2005. Accessed December 9, 2016. https://www.nps.gov/history/nhl/find/statelists/pa/Meadowcroft.pdf
Seaver, James E. 1824. A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Mary Jemison, The Project Gutenberg. Accessed April 26th 2020. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/6960/6960-h/6960-h.htm.