Annual heritage weekend coming to Meadowcroft

AVELLA, Pa. – Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village will hold their annual American Indian Heritage Weekend from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 28-29.

The event, which is in its fifth year, is the largest event the museum holds, drawing approximately 1,000 people. So much goes into the event, planning begins months before, according to Andrew R. Donovan, Meadowcroft program coordinator.

“I’ve been doing this (job) since February, and we’ve been planning since then,” said Donovan.

The event features sessions on trapping, fishing, cooking over an open fire, starting fires, weaving traps and nets, skinning venison, tanning hides, grinding grain, hunting, fur-trading, the use of local wild plants, agriculture and tattooing.

A total of nine interpreters will demonstrate skills of everyday life for the Eastern Woodland and Monongahela American Indians both pre- and post-European contact.

“Since we have the 18th century (cabin), we’re branching out,” said Donovan, noting visitors will have an opportunity to see pre-contact cooking with clay pots and gourds and post-contact cooking with metal cookware. “It’s a lot harder to cook with clay pots and pumpkins than brass, copper and iron.”

Five living historians will be stationed at the 17th century Native American village. The village features a barrier wall, wigwams and arbors where the “three sisters” – corn, beans and squash – are grown.

The living historians will be demonstrating a variety of everyday skills and activities, including cooking, weaving and tanning.

“They will be demonstrating a couple of different types of weaving,” said Donovan. “They’ll demonstrate tanning – scraping the hide, the whole process will be covered over the two days of the program.”

Visitors can also explore the interior of a wigwam, inspect recreated prehistoric artifacts, learn about American Indian agriculture and try their hand using an atlatl, a prehistoric spear thrower.

Near the village, a self-guided trail with informational signs will provide visitors with a walking trail loop where they can learn how the forest served as the supermarket, pharmacy and clothing store to American Indians.

Meadowcroft also features a log cabin that shows how late 18th century American Indian families adopted European building techniques.

Donovan noted most European settlers didn’t know how to live in the forest, and, even as they influenced American Indians with metal tools, they were influenced by the American Indians.

“They borrowed heavily – hunting, clothing,” said Donovan. “The English didn’t know how to live in the forest, and they borrowed from Scandinavian and Indian cultures.”

One of the most popular features of the event is the fishing demonstration, which takes place below the rockshelter in Cross Creek. Living historian Doug Wood will demonstrate building weirs to concentrate and channel fish, pre-historic fishing techniques and a recipe using local vegetation to stun fish.

“He goes over fishing before they had metal j-hooks,” said Donovan.

Sessions on trapping and gathering also will be held on the water’s edge. Donovan noted the American Indians who used the rockshelter were drawn by the abundance of food sources, such as amphibians and fish.

Donovan noted historian Todd Johnson has helped the museum in contacting fellow living historians. Johnson, who is half-Huron Indian, uses the name Ghost in the Head while interpreting the lives of his ancestors.

Donovan added authenticity was the museum’s prime concern in organizing the event.

“People trust what they see at museums,” said Donovan.

The museum relies on archaeological record, first-person accounts and journals to reconstruct what life was like for American Indians and early settlers, never depending on a single source, but using correlating sources.

It’s important to educate the public on the history and heritage of the area’s American Indians because most people know very little about it.

“People know that they were here, but they don’t know the first thing about them,” said Donovan. “Most people who think Eastern Woodland think Iroquois, but there were lots of groups other than the Iroquois.”

The museum is a good spot for the event because many of the materials the historians need are readily available.

“We have a supply of what they need,” said Donovan. “They need squirrels for the demonstration of field dressing.”

The National Historic Landmark also features a 16,000-year-old rock overhang used by the region’s earliest inhabitants for shelter and a historic village, which recreates an Upper Ohio Valley village from the mid-19th century.

Regular admission to the museum is $10 for adults, $9 for senior citizens and $5 for children ages 6-17. Children under 6 and Heinz History Center members get in free.

For more information on Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village, please visit and click on the Meadowcroft tab or call (724) 587-3412.

(Wallace-Minger can be contacted at