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History - Mesa Verde

Did You Know?

Long House is the second largest cliff dwelling in Mesa Verde, yet it receives fewer than 15% of the park's visitors?


Photo: Families tour ancient Spruce Tree House.



As long as 10,000 years ago, Paleo-Indians hunted in the area of Mesa Verde. It wasn’t until about 2,000 years ago that the first farming people, known as the Basketmakers, came into the area, but there is no evidence that they occupied Mesa Verde, itself at that time.



The First Settlers

The oldest sites in the park date from around the year 450. The Basketmakers had developed and were farming and hunting the tablelands. They originally build pithouses in canyon alcoves as well as on the mesa tops. Around the year 750 they started to use bows and arrows and also to build pithouses together in small towns, or pueblos.


For the next 250 years or so, they seemed to be experimenting with different building styles and materials, eventually coming to erect their homes in groups around pithouses. Eventually the pithouses took on more ceremonial purposes and became kivas.


Developing Culture, Building Towers

By the year 1100, the culture was becoming highly developed. The Anasazi were excellent potters, and made beautiful pieces with intricate patterns painted on them. They kept domestic dogs and turkeys, wove cloth from cotton, and traded for items that came from as far away as the Pacific Ocean. They grew squash, corn, and beans, and built check dams and water storage systems to irrigate their crops. Their stonemasonry skills were advanced as well, and they began to build towers.


Towns in the Canyon Walls

Then, about 1200 large numbers of people began to build their towns in the alcoves of the canyon walls again. The archeological debate rages over what caused them to do this. The cliff dwellings are elaborate, would have taken huge labor, housed many people, and were abandoned less than a hundred years later.


The Mesa Verde folks and their neighbors from all around the Four Corners region migrated to Arizona and New Mexico, where they became part of the Pueblo people that live there today.


Puzzle

The two major population shifts, first from the mesas to the cliff walls, and then out of the region altogether are the subject of intense research and conjecture among archeologists and tourists, alike.


Explorers

In the mid eighteenth century, Spanish explorers traveled through the region, skirting the Mesa Verde area. In the mid 1800’s American explorers recorded climbing to a high point within Mesa Verde, calling it by name, but not mentioning any cliff dwellings.


National Park Status

By the 1870’s white men were recording their findings of archeological sites throughout the region, including the cliff houses at Mesa Verde. Around the turn of the twentieth century, there was much public support for designating it a National Park, and by 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt had signed the bill. Within two years, Smithsonian Institution archeologist, J. W. Fewkes was excavating and developing the sites for visitors.


World Heritage

In 1976, 8,500 acres of the park was designated as National Wilderness Area. Two years later, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) listed Mesa Verde National Park as a World Heritage Site. Around half a million people visit Mesa Verde every year.



Next Page >>> Travel Information for Mesa Verde



Mesa Verde National Park Travel Guide For Families:

BEST FAMILY ATTRACTIONS IN MESA VERDE

RANGER PROGRAMS FOR KIDS IN MESA VERDE

PICNIC AREAS AND RESTAURANTS IN MESA VERDE

CAMPGROUNDS AND LODGING IN MESA VERDE

TOWNS NEAR MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK

MESA VERDE QUICK GEOLOGY GUIDE

MESA VERDE QUICK WILDLIFE GUIDE

MESA VERDE QUICK HISTORY GUIDE

TRAVEL INFORMATION FOR MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK

CONSIDERATIONS FOR FAMILIES IN MESA VERDE