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Anasazi (Ancestral Pueblo) Cliff Dwellings in Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon, and Canyon de Chelly

The Ancestral Pueblo people (Anasazi in Navajo language) were masters of shaping the landscape to make it habitable and the unique houses they built on the Four Corners (Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado). Which the most recognizable hallmark of their culture. Their first recorded houses were shallow pit-houses that they built during the Basketmaker II period (1200 BC-500 AD). These later evolved into deep pit-houses during the Basketmaker III (500 AD-750 AD) period. The cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon, and Canyon de Chelly were developed around 1100 AD according to the Bible Timeline with World History.

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The first Great Houses appeared in the Mesa Verde area and at Chaco Canyon around the Pueblo I period (750-900 AD). The Mesa Verde area was temporarily abandoned during the greater part of 900 AD. It wasn’t repopulated until 1000 AD. The Chaco Canyon area dominated the region during the Pueblo II period (900-1150 AD). However, the arrival of the Pueblo III period (1150-1300) was marked by violence in the Ancestral Pueblo communities. This pushed the people to switch from exposed pit-houses and great houses to carved cliff dwellings.

Mesa Verde

Located on the Colorado side of the Four Corners, the Mesa Verde National Park was home to many of the Ancestral Pueblo’s ancient cliff dwellings. As much as twenty-four cliff dwellings the size of a village (as well as more than 500 houses nestled in alcoves) were carved on the side of the canyons all over the National Park. The largest and most magnificent of these dwellings was the Cliff Palace (built and occupied between 1200 to 1280). Richard Wetherill, a local rancher, discovered this site in 1888 and called the people who used to live there by the Navajo name “Anasazi.”

“Gila Cliff Dwellings as seen from a gorge below.”

Chaco Canyon

Hundreds of miles south of the Colorado-New Mexico border lies the ruins of Chaco Canyon and its magnificent cliff dwellings. It was also home to many of the Ancestral Pueblo’s Great Houses and kivas (ceremonial rooms) before it was known for the cliff dwellings. At its peak (between 1075 to 1100), the main area of Chaco Canyon covered up to ten square kilometers and housed up to three thousand people.

Canyon de Chelly

Perhaps the most picturesque of the Ancestral Pueblo cliff dwellings were the ones located in the Canyon de Chelly near the Arizona border of the Four Corners. The area itself contained more than 2,500 archaeological sites that the Native Americans built between 1500 BC and 1350 AD. The Ancestral Pueblo built their cliff dwellings around 1100 AD but abandoned them around 1300 to be resettled later by the Navajo Indians. The must-see cliff dwellings in the Canyon de Chelly include the White House Ruins, Antelope House, and Mummy Cave.

Picture By Tony Dutson, Tony Dutson Photo Gallery; color-corrected by Howcheng. –, Copyrighted free use, Link
Cremin, Aedeen. The World Encyclopedia of Archaeology. Richmond Hill, Ont.: Firefly Books, 2012.
United States. National Park Service. “List of Sites–American Southwest–A National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary.” National Parks Service. Accessed October 5, 2016.

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