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.
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.