In the Four Corners region of southern Colorado lies Mesa Verde National Park, home to the cliff dwellings of an ancient people. Imagine a huge complex of rooms carved out of sandstone and glued together with adobe mortar.
- Mesa Verde National Park was established in 1906 by President Theodore Roosevelt and Congress. The park covers 52,485 acres with more than 600 cliff dwellings. It’s the largest archaeological preserve in the United States.
- Around 7500 BC, nomadic Paleo-Indians visited the area seasonally. By 1000 BC, the Basketmaker Culture had become established here. These people lived by hunting, gathering, and growing corn, squash, and beans. They made beautiful woven baskets, mats, sandals and other materials.
- By 650 AD, the Pueblo Indians had moved here and began building the cliff dwellings we see today. Their society became more complex. They traded with other groups, made large pueblo structures, and developed food stores. Their population grew too.
- In the 13th century, a 69 year drought brought famine, social problems, and war. The pueblos fought among themselves and also outside groups. Archaeologists have found evidence of massacres and cannibalism. Climate change that brought first drought and then cold temperatures was a major factor. Another problem was the pueblo people’s reliance on corn for food. When corn crops failed, they went hungry. Thousands of people left for a warmer climate, more water, and bison on the Rio Grande River.
- The Pueblo people used astronomy for location, planning crops, and for religious ceremonies. A temple at Mesa Verde was built to capture the first rays of sunlight during winter solstice.
- These people built reservoirs and other devices to store and move water to crops. They domesticated wild turkeys and made pottery.
- Spanish missionaries were the first Europeans to explore the area in 1776. The Ute Indians often lived in the valley, but they believed the cliff dwellings are sacred ancestral homes and never lived in them.
- Mortar: a glue-like material used for securing building materials
- Famine: severe lack of food
- Sacred: religiously significant
Questions and Answers
Question: Can people visit the cliff dwellings today?
Answer: People can visit the park and some of the cliff dwellings; not all the cliff dwellings can be entered or seen up close.
Visit the official website for Mesa Verde.