Water Under the Bridge

By John F. Oyler
Copyright © 2016



Meadowcroft Village
November 03, 2016



We visited Meadowcroft Village and Rockshelter on a lovely autumn afternoon, attracted initially by the fact that they were supplementing their normal programs with a special re-enactment of Native American life in this area three or four centuries ago.

Our first stop was the atlatl demonstration. The atlatl is a spear-thrower, a custom designed tool that uses leverage to greatly increase the speed and range of a hunter throwing a spear. The thrower rests the spear in the atlatl, then snaps his wrist as he brings the spear forward, effectively increasing the length of his throwing arm fifteen or twenty inches.

We weren’t particularly successful trying to hit a mock deer twenty paces away, but certainly some of the other, more athletically inclined, visitors were able to propel their spears hard enough and straight enough to impale the target.

We then walked down the hill to a reconstruction of a sixteenth century Monongahela People village, a collection of wigwams surrounded by a picket stockade. The demonstrations there included a woman deftly converting cattail leaves into duck decoys, another converting bark into useable cord, and one grilling corn on the cob and raccoon over an open fire.

In another area we inspected a replica of a very early log cabin, watched a demonstration of a trapper constructing a deadfall to kill a deer or bear, and visited a mock eighteenth century trading post filled with trading goods – cloth, tinware, mirrors, etc. – and furs from the Native Americans who traded there.

We then walked through Pine Bank Covered Bridge en route to Meadowcroft Historic Village. Originally built in Greene County in 1871, the Pine Bank Bridge was disassembled in 1961, and moved to Meadowcroft by Albert Miller, where it was extensively rehabilitated. It is a handsome King Post truss bridge, spanning about thirty feet.

The Historic Village includes an excellent log cabin which had been the home of Mr. Miller’s grand-parents in a location about half a mile from its current location. The docent there very capably gave a description of living quite efficiently in a simple, rustic environment. Especially instructive was a section of the inner wall in which part of the chinking had been removed to show how it was installed. Also in the Historic Village are an old one room school, a small church, and a working blacksmith shop, each of which warrants a visit.

Associated with the Meadowcroft facility is the world famous Meadowcroft Rockshelter, which many people believe is the oldest site of human habitation in North America. It is beneath a large overhanging sandstone ledge overlookmg Cross Creek. In 1955 Albert Miller found intriguing Native American artifacts in a groundhog burrow there.

It took him twenty years to find the right archaeologist to investigate his find – Dr. James Adavisio, then a faculty member in the Anthropology Department at Pitt. Adavasio recognized the potential of the artifacts and the opportunity for the University to use the site as a convenient field laboratory for its archaeological students. Excavation at the site was done in an extremely detailed fashion, at times with razor blades!

Radiocarbon dating of the oldest artifacts discovered at the site indicates their age to be least 16,000 years, and possibly even 19,000. The most valuable find is the Miller Lanceolate projectile point, a spear head that apparently had seen considerable use and re-sharpening. Its value is enhanced by a large collection of related objects, all of about the same age.

The dig site itself isn’t particularly impressive, but the overall experience of viewing the descriptive video while looking at the excavation and the surrounding rocks is well worth the trip there. We are extremely fortunate to have so many historically relevant places in this area.

For us, one of the highlights of the visit was the exhibit of Andrew Knez Jr.’s artwork in the Visitor Center. As soon as I saw it I immediately recognized his style. Most appropriate of all is “She Claims the Rockshelter”, which shows two Native Americans contemplating a stop at the rockshelter and finding themselves pre-empted by a very large brown bear.

On the way home we stopped to visit the Fall Festival in the Cecil Township Park. It was an enjoyable experience in a very pleasant environment – a large variety of vendors and entertainment. We were pleased to find a booth representing the Cecil Historical Society and had a productive discussion with the ladies staffing it. Their Society has been in existence for just a few years, but they are aware of and committed to preserving the very special history that is unique to their community.

At this stage in my life, an autumn drive in our countryside and the opportunity to rub elbows with some historic is very rewarding. If it doesn’t appeal to you, we suggest you give it a try.

Water Under the Bridge

  • "Water Under the Bridge" is a column written by historian John Oyler. It appears weekly in the Bridgeville Area News, a TribTotal Media publication, as well as in a more expanded form on his blog.

The Author

  • Aside from being Bridgeville's foremost historian, Dr. John F. Oyler is also an associate professor at the Univeristy of Pittsburgh, where he teaches classes in civil engineering.

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