In 1906, Mesa Verde National Park, was established by Congress and President Theodore Roosevelt. Mesa Verde covers 52,485 acres and preserves some of the best-preserved Puebloan sites in the United States.
There are more than 4,000 know archeological sites that date back to 550AD, these include cliff dwellings, mesa top sites of pit houses, pueblos, masonry towers and farming structures of the Ancestral Pueblo people who lived in the region for more than 700 years. After living on the mesa top for about 600 years, the Pueblo people began building under the cliffs of Mesa Verde. They constructed building from one-room storage units to villages of over 150 rooms. Rooms averaged 6’ x 8’ were constructed using sandstone. They continued to cultivate crops on the mesa top.
The best known of these cliff dwelling is the Cliff Palace, which is thought to be the largest cliff dwelling in North America. The Cliff Palace housed up to 250 people in its 217 rooms and 23 kivas. The second largest dwelling was Long House that housed up to 150 people in its 150 rooms. There are approximately 600 separate cliff dwellings in the park, most of these only had one to five rooms each. It is estimated that the population of Mesa peaked at about 5,000 people.
By 1300, following the Great Drought which lasted for 23 years, most of the people had left Mesa Verde moving south into what is now New Mexico and Arizona. These people were the ancestors of the present-day Pueblo Indians.
In the 1889 Richard Wetherill, local ranchers, and his four younger brothers stumbled across the ancient ruins when they were searching for stray cattle. Since then, archeologist have sought an understanding of the life and culture of the people who lived there. They have determined that these people were proficient at building, artistic in their crafts, and skillfully adaptable to making a living in a very difficult land.
In 1978, Mesa Verde National Park, was designated a World Heritage Site – recognizing it as one of the premier archeological sites in the world.
“We must learn, and we are gradually learning, how to write history with the help of archaeology.” Michael Rostovtzeff