Bear Mountain and St. Paul's Mission (next to cemetery), focal points of Monacan culture today
Source: US Geological Survey (USGS), Tobacco Row Mountain 7.5x7.5 topographic quad (2010)
Since 1999, 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. When Natural Bridge became a state park in 2016, the re-created village was retained for both education and as a tourist attraction.
As advertised by the Virginia Tourism Corporation, the Natural Bridge exhibit is the only re-created Monacan town:1
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 some Indian village recreations is a non-native invasive species, one that is overwhelming natural vegetation in the marshes of Tidewater Virginia.
At Natural Bridge the Monacan use cattail reeds, a species which would have grown naturally in their region's swamps 400 years ago. It took two years to collect 5,000 cattail leaves to cover one shelter at the village.2
The authenticity of the re-creation is affected moderately 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, visitors saw people dressed to match modern moral standards rather than a re-creation of how the Monacan dressed in the 1600's. The interpretive site was created to be practical as will as informative - visitors did not see a re-creation of how people extracted sinews from a deer carcass, or experience the flies and other insects that must have been associated with the human settlements.
Most obviously, no groups would have built a palisaded town in such a valley. It was impossible to defend, and impossible to flee from the town 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" (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 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 Paleo-Indians discovered the unique geological feature, as much as 15,000 years ago. You do not need modern technology or cultural sensitivities to recognize that the bridge of stone is special.
Building a recreated village at that location is justified by the benefits of outreach and marketing, separate from perfect historical accuracy. About 100,000 people per year see a recreation of structures that are historically illuminating, and stimulate thinking. If the re-created village had been located in 1999 at the confluence of the Rivanna and James rivers, the historical site of Rassawek, visitation and public education would have been minimal.3
when enough conflict justified constructing wooden barriers with stone and bone tools, a village in the valley would have been extremely vulnerable to attack