The Neolithic Cliff Dwellers of Mesa Verde

cliff dwellings view from above

Although no written language survives & scientific knowledge remains sketchy, the archaeological evidence left behind by the Anasazi (in modern day Colorado) speaks with timeless eloquence.

They were adept at constructing houses beneath overhanging cliffs made of stone, mud plaster, and wooden beamed roofs. They created elaborate pottery with geometric designs. And they were skillful at making a living from a difficult land.

Eventually the Anasazi gave way to the Hopi, Pueblo, and Zuni peoples. In fact, Anasazi is a Navajo word meaning “enemy ancestors.” We don’t know what the Anasazi called themselves.

cliff dwellings side view

These ancestral Puebloans saw their village as the center of the world and oriented it around ceremonial holes from whence their ancestors were said to have emerged from the underworld.

cliff dwellings with open surface view of kiva

“Kiva” is the Hopi word for these sacred underground chambers which the Anaszi would have used for healing rites, praying for rain, etc. Below, to the left of the fire pit, is a small hole (sipapu) which functions as a symbolic entrance to the underworld.

cliff dwelling looking down into kiva

Not realizing how cramped and dark they were, I foolishly climbed down one of the ladders into a kiva. I totally could not see anything. More people descended, all seemingly speaking different languages. Each time I tried to climb back up on the narrow ladder, someone else would be on the way down. I fired off the flash on my camera a couple of times but never really knew who I was rubbing elbows with until later when I viewed the images on a computer.

cliff dwelling view from inside the kiva🙂 I emerged safely from the underworld, more alive than when I descended 🙂

cliff dwellers reconstruction

2 Replies to “The Neolithic Cliff Dwellers of Mesa Verde”

  1. I find this fascinating and hope to explore it myself one day. The idea of their ancestors emerging from the underworld has me spellbound.


  2. Thanks… I wish I could say that down in that hole I was spellbound too, but being claustrophobic I was just terrified 🙂


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