Before we visited the Four Corners area of south-west USA we had absolutely no idea that, a thousand years ago, an ancient people farmed and lived in the tablelands, rocky outcrops and sheer cliffs of what is now the Mesa Verde National Park.
Over 30,000 people lived in the area – thats more than live here today. Perhaps this is a clue as to why they decided to make their homes inside caves on sheer cliff faces and in impossible rocky crevices.
This incredible civilisation, now known as the Ancestral Peubloans, lived in the areas around Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Arizona for over 600 years.
They came to the abundant south sloping lands of the tablelands to plant corn, beans and squash. They survived off their crops, domesticated turkeys and game hunting until, around 1300AD, the entire civilisation decided to abandon the area and move south.
No one knows or understand why they decided to move, almost overnight. But it was only 100 years before this mass migration that they started to live in cliff dwellings (before this they were living in pit homes like the one pictured above).
Did they move to the cliffs for protection? If so, against what?
When the Ancestral Peubloans left the area they abandoned everything in a hurry – leaving behind stocks of dried corn, sandals, unfinished buildings and thousands of pieces of pottery.
One theory is that the area became so overcrowded that wild food sources, farming land and especially water became scarce – causing friction between the people living in the area.
One thing is known for certain however – these people were great famers and amazing architects!
It’s possible to see ruins left by the Ancestral Peubloans scattered all over the four states all the way west to the Grand Canyon and east to Santa Fe. However, you’ll find more ruins and the most impressive architecture at Mesa Verde National Park in southern Colorado.
Within the park you’re able to witness the evolution of the Peubloan lifestyle through their ever-changing dwellings and left-behind artefacts. You’re also able to take tours through the most famous cliff face ruins – Long House, Balcony House and Cliff Palace.
We paid $5 to tour through Balcony House and thoroughly enjoyed the scramble to enter the incredible structure – two ladders, a tunnel and a near vertical cliff face were scaled to reach it!
But the climb is worth it! And once you realise the Peubloans didn’t have ladders – just tiny hand and toe holes dug into the rock face to reach their homes – you have to marvel at their abilities!
The most impressive part? After 100 years of archaeological digs and surveying, not one crushed skeleton has been found to indicate that falling from these cliffs was common.
These people must have had ninja-like skills and an immense amount of perseverance to have created an abundant life here.