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Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings

While looking for cattle, a rancher named Richard Wetherill accidentally discovered the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings. Since then, Teddy Roosevelt has established Mesa Verde as a national park and the site has been extremely well-preserved. Today, the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings serve as a vital resource for information about the Ancestral Puebloans and the way they lived.

From 450 CE to 1300 CE, the Ancestral Puebloans settled into the Mesa Verde cliff faces. They constructed around 600 different structures, but the most notable one is known as Cliff Palace. It is unknown why they chose to build into cliff faces, but historians speculate it was because the cliffs provided protection from the harsh elements in Colorado. To access the cliffs, the Ancestral Puebloans used retractable ladders.

Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings, 450-1300 C.E., Sandstone, Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi), Montezuma County, Colorado

At Cliff Palace, families lived in sets of rooms gathered around kivas. Kivas were circular structures with a fire pit in the middle, and they were often used for special ceremonies and events. Cliff Palace had an unusually high ratio of kivas compared to other Ancestral Puebloan sites. This suggests that Cliff Palace was used as an administrative and religious site for surrounding communities.

One important piece of information to note is that the Ancestral Puebloans left plastered and painted sketches on the walls. Some sketches included geometric designs and drawings of animals.

In 1300 CE, the Ancestral Puebloans abandoned Mesa Verde. It is unknown why, but it was likely due to drought, lack of resources, or violence.


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