Colorado’s Cliff Dwellings- A Glimpse into The Lost Society of the Ancestral Pueblo People


About AD 550, long before Europeans explored North America, the people of the Four Corners region moved on to the Mesa Verde. For over 700 years these people and their descendants lived and flourished here, eventually building elaborate stone communities in the sheltered alcoves of the canyon walls. (US Department of the Interior) In the span of a generation or two, all of the people in these communities left, leaving behind these spectacular “ghost towns”, legends of alien encounters, and a string of mysterious theories explaining the mass exodus.

Despite decades of excavation, analysis, classification, and comparison, our knowledge of this society is still incomplete. The cliff dwellings speak eloquently of a people adept at building, artistic in their crafts, and skillful at making a living from a difficult land. By the Classic Pueblo period, from 1150-1300, Ancestral Pueblo people were heirs of a vigorous civilization, whose accomplishments in community living and the arts must be ranked among the finest expressions of human culture in North America.


However, a look across the pond to the Dordogne region in France, reveals a similar story. Everyone from the prehistoric man to the medieval warriors took up residence in cliff dwellings for protection, community, and natural spring water. Below are some pictures taken last summer at Roque Saint-Christoph on the river Vézère, near Peyzac-le-Moustier in the Dordogne. People continuously occupied these dwellings for tens of thousands of years.

The biggest difference however, is that Mesa Verde’s entire population vacated. Was it drought? War? Aliens? We still don’t know for sure- but if you are passing through Colorado, stop by Mesa Verde National Park to investigate it for yourself.


  1. There were theories around the climate change that could have affected the communities leading to the gradual abandonment of the sites. But more study is needed. Its intriguing. Definitely a place we’ll explore the next opportunity we get to the southwest.

    1. I agree that climate change was a major factor, thanks! Aliens are a fun suggestion but according to the studies in Dendrochronology, there was an extended period of drought that likely forced settlements into the cliffs to gain access to the natural spring water and protection. I would love to spend a good amount of time learning more! Have fun exploring!

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