Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Encyclopedia Article


A national park located in southwestern Colorado covering a broad cultural landscape that includes numerous prehistoric cliff dwellings.In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt designated Mesa Verde National Park to protect what was considered one of the largest and best-preserved archaeological sites in the world. In 1978, Mesa Verde was also designated as a protected UNESCO World Heritage site.

The prehistory of Mesa Verde reaches back to around 550 CE, when Basketmaker people built subterranean pit houses on the top of Mesa Verde’s large sandstone plateaus and grew corn. By 750 CE, the occupants of this region began to build pueblos with room blocks and ceremonial kivas above ground. Finally, around 1150-1200 CE, the Ancestral Puebloans began constructing large multi-story dwellings within deep alcoves on the sides of the mesas, which had been created by water erosion. The alcoves chosen for occupation were generally on the south-facing side of the mesas in order to take advantage of as much seasonal passive solar heating and cooling as possible. The most famous of these cliff dwellings is Cliff Palace, a 200-room, multi-story pueblo ruin located in the Great Mesa. These dwellings were occupied until 1300 CE when a drought drove the people out of the region.

Photo Credit: 

"Spruce Tree House, Mesa Verde National Park, October 20, 2014" by Jacqueline Poggi is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND.

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