Mesa Verde was the first national park to be designated for the human constructions that it contains rather than the natural features. The part contains the remains number of buildings from the Puebloan people, stone age farmers who lived here from about 550 CE to 1300 CE. Around 1190 CE they stopped building on the top of the mesa and started building under overhanging cliff faces.
Nobody is quite sure why they did this. Possibly they ran out of land on level ground as it was all farmed by then, or possibly it was a defensive measure, as there is some evidence of warfare between clans. Around 1300, the whole population of the mesa moved on, though again the reasons were not clear. There is evidence of a prolonged drought, but the community had survived those in the past. Perhaps it was an external threat, or perhaps it was just that they had cut down all the trees, and there was no firewood left to keep them warm in the cold winters. Even stone age people had the technology to render their environment uninhabitable.
Because of their sheltered position and the fact that the plateau was never reoccupied after the Puebloans left, the cliff dwellings are very well preserved.
We took a couple of ranger led walks through different ruins, which involved going down narrow and uneven staircases on the side of the cliff, or wooden ladders. This was easier than the original approach, which was apparently by trails of hand and toe holds cut in the cliff face.
Many of the rooms were actually for food storage. The main crops were corn, beans, and squash, which store pretty well, and the Puebloans may have been able to keep as much as three year’s supply of food in stock.
Daily activities may have mostly taken place outdoors on the patios formed on the roofs of the underground “kivas”, circular rooms that may have served as temple, workshop, and bedroom.
The Puebloans had trade routes that stretched to the Pacific for shell beads…
… and their sometimes quirky black and grey pottery has been found as far away as Kansas.
They had domesticated turkeys, and used turkey feathers woven with other fibers to make warm clothing, including fuzzy socks.