The national park in southwest Colorado contains around 600 cliff dwellings from the pre-Columbian Anasazi culture. It is located on the approximately 2600 m high table mountain of Mesa Verde. Many villages have been well preserved in the gorges and rock niches and give an insight into the everyday life of the Anasazi. Best known are the four-story Cliff Palace, the Long House in Rock Canyon, and the Spruce Tree House.
Mesa Verde National Park: Facts
|Official title:||Mesa Verde National Park|
|Cultural monument:||National park since 1906, 600 so-called “cliff dwellings”, including the Cliff Palace and ritual chambers (Kivas), Step House, Long House and Sun Temple between Wetherill Mesa and Soda Canyon|
|Location:||Mesa Verde mountain board (“Green Board”)|
|Meaning:||very important settlements of the San Juan Anasazi from the 6th to 13th centuries.|
Mesa Verde National Park: History
|around 750||Beginning of the Anasazi or Pueblo culture|
|around 1150||Construction of residential buildings in caverns and under rock overhangs|
|around 1200||Construction of larger residential complexes in the Cliff and Fewkes Canyons with 33 building complexes for up to 800 residents|
|1277||Extension of Mug House to 94 rooms and 8 ritual chambers|
|1874||Commissioned by the US Geological and Geographic Survey of the Territories, William Henry Jackson took first photographs of the cliff settlements|
|1890||Charles Mason and the Wetherill brothers discover Mug House, a find of several mugs tied together, after which the site was named|
A sculpture like an inclusion in amber
When, in the winter of 1888, two cowboys were looking for their cattle, which they had missed in the vastness of the prairie and on the wooded plateaus of the foothills of the mighty Rocky Mountains, they stood at the edge of a steep canyon. In the thick snowstorm they discovered crumbling walls and towers on the opposite side of the gorge. The American author Willa Sibert Cather, who wrote novels about the settlement of the American West, describes this scene: “The trickling snow that fell on the pinyons gave the place a certain solemnity. It was a sculpture, captured like a fly in amber. “- Intrigued, the Cowboys climbed to the abandoned buildings down and found themselves amongst a labyrinth of different dwellings again. Everywhere were stone tools and ceramic objects around. After seven centuries, the two “cowherds” were the first people to set foot in the “Cliff Palace”, the later name for a “residential palace” under the rocky outcrops on the edge of Chapin Mesa. Around 300 years earlier, Spanish colonialists had invaded this area when they conquered the southwest of what is now the United States, without having the slightest idea of what was hidden in the canyons and on the edges of the rocks. For over three centuries slumbered in this wilderness that received by the Spanish name “Mesa Verde” (“Green blackboard”), the testimonies of a long lost culture.
Probably around 1300 the former residents had given up the settlements in the rock niches. After the Anasazi had colonized the foothills of the Rocky Mountains for centuries and tilled the soil of the mountain table with classic crops such as beans, corn and pumpkin, their productive dry field cultivation reached its limit. A growing number of hungry mouths called for intensive agriculture that gradually drained the soil. Up to 2500 Anasazi finally asked for their daily bread. The modest game population dwindled through overhunting, and thus another food source dried up.
The first residents came to the Mesa Verde mountain range as early as 10,000 years ago, after the end of the last ice age in North America. In search of wild animals, the natives of the north moved to the warmer south. They were the ancestors of the Anasazi, who first lived around 100 BC on the plains in the southwest of today’s state of Colorado. It was not until around 1100 that they left their humble pit houses and moved into the remote, inaccessible canyons. Hidden and as good as safe from enemies, they built their impressive “cliff dwellings” and ritual chambers (kivas) in the soft sandstone of the washed-out rock overhangs, niches and grottos. Natural cisterns and collecting channels for rainwater ensured the water supply of smaller branches like »Mummy II«, in which up to 400 people lived together. The remarkable evidence of the architecture of the Anasazi include eight ritual chambers, some of which are underground, at the “Spruce Tree House”. Excavations there brought to light ceramics, the white background of which had been decorated with black geometric patterns by artistically gifted Anasazi women. Gambles oaks, whose acorns enriched the diet of the Indians, still line the paths on the plateau today. The tall Douglas firs standing here, which they mistook for spruce trees – hence the name “Spruce Tree House” – are said to have been used by the first white explorers to descend into the valley to inspect the peculiar “rock dwelling”. Over the years, diligent researchers gradually discovered over 600 “cliff dwellings”, which once could only be reached with difficulty. The so-called “Cliff Palace” with its 220 rooms and 23 cult chambers is one of the largest residential buildings of the Anasazi within the Mesa Verde area.