Tha Native American History of Rock House

Rock House is a geological feature that sits inside Hocking Hills State Park and is a big draw for visitors. Most pay attention to the geological history of the area, but there is much more to it than that.

The Rock House itself is a cave carved out of the Blackhand sandstone halfway up a cliff face. The earliest inhabitants were Native Americans who apparently used the cave as a shelter and resting place. There is also evidence of craft and turpentine production in the cave that still remains.

Archaeological evidence remains of turpentine stills, ovens and a water collection system carved out of the soft sandstone. Turpentine was used by Native Americans for all manner of things, from medicines, crafting and the treatment of injuries. That made it an important commodity and an essential ingredient to their way of life.

Inside Rock House there are the remains of two turpentine stills in the wall. There are two rock shelves with hand carved recesses above them. A small channel leads from the recess to the shelve, presumably where the collecting vessel was sat.

To make turpentine, the Native Americans would have placed pitch pine wood in the depression, weighed it down with rock and would have had a fire built on the top. The heat would drive the wood sap out of the pint to flow down the channel to be collected in a vessel. It was a long, slow process, but was vital to the continued heal and wellbeing of the peoples.

As well as those two turpentine stills, two ovens were also carved out of Rock House. Recesses at the back of the cave are evidence of rudimentary baking. A fire would have been lit in the bottom of the recess and bread dough or other food placed on top. The fire would heat the entire recess, all around the food so it cooked on all sides at once. A crude but very effective way to make bread.

The water collection system catches rainwater that filters through the sandstone and runs a channel through the cave. When full, the channel leads to one of the Rock House “windows” to escape. This would have provided a steady supply of clean running water to whomever called Rock House home at the time.

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