American Indian heritage celebrated

AVELLA, Pa. – More than 500 people attended the first day of the Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village’s American Indian Heritage Weekend Saturday as several re-enactors demonstrated how pre- and post-contact American Indians would have lived every day.

Diane Anestis explained pre-contact American Indians would have used – and eaten – just about anything they could catch, noting food would have included beavers, frogs, fish, snakes, crawfish and turtles. Turtle shells, fresh-water clam shells and gourds were used as tools and containers.

“Turtle shells make excellent bowls, and fresh-water clam shells make good tools for scraping and cutting,” she said.

In addition, the food would have been cooked over an open fire, using a grill-type wooden platform. Information about what and how the early American Indians ate was gleaned from archeologial sites and records and images created by Europeans, such as late 1500s wood cuts made by Theodore De Bry.

Because the American Indians didn’t utilize writing, information on hunting and gathering, what was safe to eat and how to cook it.

“That knowledge would have been something that came from the elders,” said Anestis. “Even if they weren’t physically able to go out and hunt, they would have had that knowledge, how to prepare it, what plants were good for food or medicine.”

Dana Knezevich demonstrated finger-weaving, showing how American Indians would have used “Indian hemp,” or dog bane, to create long fibers, which they would then weave into ropes, nets, clothing, traps, blankets, shoes, skirts, pouches and bags.

Knezevich uses photos of items found in archeological digs and information produced by archeologists in her design, noting American Indians didn’t make items with seams, because seams would be a weak point, instead weaving bags using a spiral pattern. Bags would be woven in different ways for different purposes, including a looser weave for food items, to allow air circulation.

Woven clothing and shoes would be typically worn during warmer months, because they were lighter and also dried more quickly than leathers.

Matt Weatherholtz was demonstrating tool- and arrow-making, showing how American Indians would have combined techniques such as knapping, sandstone smoothing and using wood, bone and antler to refine the shapes.

Weatherholtz spent Saturday assisting children in making arrow shafts, which will be straightened over fire before asssembly.

Chadwick Hall assisted Ghost in the Head in skinning a bear, later demonstrating how American Indians would have defleshed the pelt, then used a brain-tanning method.

“We’re going to leave the fur, and make this either a blanket or a robe,” he said.

Cindy Fiorina of Latrobe was on her second visit to the heritage weekend, discovering last year after learning about it from re-enactor Ghost in the Head.

“It’s everything you learn,” she said about her repeat visit. “You just pick up more, learn more. I’m very interested in Native American history, and this area is great for it – Brushy Run, Fort Ligioner and Fort Necessity.”

Through today, re-enactors will demonstrate prehistoric and colonial-era skills, including hunting, fur-trading, cooking, weaving, decorative porcupine quill work, hide-tanning, tool-making and a creek-side demonstration of native fishing techniques.

Visitors can explore the interior of a wigwam, inspect recreated prehistoric tools, learn about American Indian agriculture, and use an atlatl, a prehistoric spear thrower.

Special presentations in the new 1770s frontier American Indian cabin examine similarities and differences between the lives of American Indians and European settlers in the Upper Ohio Valley and how they influenced each other.

Included in admission are tours of the Meadowcroft Rockshelter, a National Historic Landmark and the oldest site of human habitation in North America, featuring a 16,000-year-old rock overhang used by the region’s earliest inhabitants for shelter.

The American Indian Heritage Weekend event is included with regular admission, which is $12 for adults, $11 for senior citizens and $6 for children ages 6-17. Children under 6 and History Center members get in free.