Re-creation of Monacan Town

Bear Mountain and St. Paul's Mission (next to cemetery), focal points of Monacan culture today (Amherst County)
Bear Mountain and St. Paul's Mission (next to cemetery), focal points of Monacan culture today
(Amherst County)
Source: US Geological Survey (USGS), Tobacco Row Mountain 7.5x7.5 topographic quad (2010)

Since 2000, the Monacan Tribe has re-created an interpretive village at Natural Bridge. This was done in partnership with the commercial owners of the tourist site, who were trying to offer more attractions. For the tribe, the site offered an excellent opportunity to educate far more people about Monacan culture and heritage, beyond the small number of people who visit the Monacan Ancestral Museum in the Blue Ridge.

The building materials and construction techniques in the village reflect the technology and culture of the 1700's, except the reeds are not the local cane that would have been used 300 years ago. That cane is now rare, due to overgrazing. The phragmites reeds used in most Indian village recreations is a non-native invasive species, one that is overwhelming natural vegetation in the marshes of Tidewater Virginia.

The authenticity of the re-creation is affected much more by the location in the valley of Cedar Creek at Natural Bridge. The number of dwellings, the distance between structures, the size of the garden, and even the garbage midden are constrained by the narrow valley floor and other infrastructure at the tourist attraction.

At the modern Natural Bridge tourist attraction, would you expect to see a re-creation of how Monacans dressed in the 1600's, or would more clothing be required to match modern moral standards?
At the modern Natural Bridge tourist attraction, would you expect to see a re-creation of how Monacans extracted sinews from a deer carcass, or experience the flies and other insects that must have been associated with the human settlements? (Think there were more flies in Williamsburg during the 1700's, due to the horse manure?)
At the modern Natural Bridge tourist attraction - do you think any tribe would have built a village in such a valley? (Building a village deep in the valley would have made it impossible to defend, and impossible to flee if an enemy overwhelmed the defenders.)

The palisade of sticks and woven branches surrounding the village was major investment in security infrastructure, to deter attackers from racing directly into the village. Today, reenactors and others debate whether a wall around the village would have included the horizontal branches woven to make a tight barricade.

Monacan palisade and ati
Monacan palisade and "ati" (house)

Village walls may have been just a loose fence of vertical logs with no horizontal branches, slowing an attack but allowing residents to escape by slipping through the gaps. Archeological evidence does not tell us; the postholes preserved in the soil do not document the design of the wall above the posts.

reconstruction of Native American pallisade (protective barrier) at Monacan village in Natural Bridge
reconstruction of Native American palisade (protective barrier) at Monacan village in Natural Bridge

No matter how the wall was built, village leaders would have been conscious about locating the village in an easy-to-defend place. Putting a village in a dead-end narrow valley under Natural Bridge, where enemies could easily fire arrows and throw rocks from above, may have been unwise 300 years ago. One possibility: the site may have special spiritual significance, similar to Werowocomoco, justifying construction of some sort of village there despite the logistical headache and security risk of being deep in a valley.

Odds are, Natural Bridge has been a special place to Native Americans ever since they discovered the unique geological feature, as much as 15,000 years ago. You do not need modern technology or cultural sensitivities to recognize that spot is special.

However, during the Woodland Period when enough conflict was occurring to justify constructing wooden barriers with stone and bone tools, a village in the valley would have been extremely vulnerable to attack - but today, building a recreated village at that location may be a brilliant outreach/marketing decision.

if you were worried enough about attack to build a palisade - would you build a village in a valley this deep?
if you were worried enough about attack to build a palisade - would you build a village in a valley this deep?


The Monacan in Virginia
"Indians" of Virginia - The Real First Families of Virginia
Virginia Places