|Mesa Verde - The Living Past||Text from U.S Natl Park Service Mesa Verde Park Guide GPO: 1998-432-903/60339 Reprint 1997|
The first Ancestral Puebloans (formerly known as Anasazi) settled in Mesa Verde, Spanish
for "green table", about 550 A.D. They are known as Basketmakers because of their impressive skill at that
craft. Formerly a nomadic people, they were now beginning to lead a more settled way of life.
These were fairly prosperous times for the Basketmakers, and their population multiplied. About 750 A.D. they began building houses above ground, with upright walls made of poles and mud. They built these houses one against another in long, curving rows, often with a pithouse or two in front. The pithouses were probably the forerunners of the kivas of later times. From then on, these people are known as Pueblos, Spanish for "village dwellers".
By 1000 the people of Mesa Verde had advanced from pole-and-adobe construction to skillful stone masonry. Their walls of thick, double-coursed stone often rose two or three stories high and were joined together into units of 50 rooms or more. Pottery also changed, as black drawings on a white background replaced simple designs on dull grey. Farming provided more of the diet than before and much mesa-top land was cleared for that purpose.
Most of the cliff dwellings were built from the late 1190s to the late 1270s. They range in size from one-room houses to villages of more than 200 rooms - Cliff Palace. Architecturally, there is no standard ground plan. The builders fit their structures to the available space. Most walls were single courses of stone, perhaps because the alcove roofs limited heights and also protected them from erosion by the weather. The masonry work varied in quality; rough construction can be found alongside walls with well-shaped stones. Many rooms were plastered on the inside and decorated with painted designs.
The Ancestral Puebloans lived in the cliff dwellings for less than 100 years. By about 1300 Mesa Verde was deserted. There are several theories about the reasons for their migration. We know that the last quarter of the century was a time of drought and crop failures, but these people had survived earlier droughts. Maybe after hundreds of years of intensive use the land and its resources - the soil, the forests, and the animals - were depleted. Perhaps there were social and political problems, and the people looked for new opportunities elsewhere. When the people of Mesa Verde left, they traveled south into New Mexico and Arizona, settling among their kin already there. Whatever happened, some of today's pueblo people, and perhaps other tribes, are descendants of the cliff dwellers of Mesa Verde.