Wednesday, December 18, 2013

This Day in History: Dec 18, 1888: Discovery of the ancient Indian ruins of Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde.

 File:Mesa-Verde---Cliff-Palace-in 1891 - edit1.jpg

On December 18, 1888, Richard Wetherill and Charlie Mason, cowboys from Mancos, found Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde after spotting the ruins from the top of the mesa. Wetherill gave the ruin its current name. Richard Wetherill along with his father, brothers, extended family, and neighbors explored a number of the ruins, digging and knocking down walls and roofs, and gathering artifacts. The Wetherills sold part of their finds to the Historical Society of Colorado but kept the larger share of the collections.

 John Wetherill

Among the people who stayed with the Wetherills and explored the cliff-dwellings was mountaineer, photographer, and author Frederick H. Chapin who visited the region during 1889 and 1890. He described the landscape and ruins in an 1890 article and later in an 1892 book, The Land of the Cliff-Dwellers, which he illustrated with hand-drawn maps and personal photographs.

Gustav Nordenskiold

 Balcony House

 The Wetherills also hosted Gustaf Nordenskiöld, the son of polar explorer Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld, in 1891. Nordenskiöld continued excavations begun by the Wetherills on the impressive Cliff Palace, unfortunately doing considerable damage as he dug and gathered artifacts. In 1893, Nordenskiöld published an illustrated account of his investigations called The Cliff Dwellers of the Mesa Verde.


Tree ring dating indicates that construction and refurbishing of Cliff Palace was continuous from c. 1190 CE through c. 1260 CE, although the major portion of the building was done within a twenty-year time span. The Ancestral Pueblo that constructed this cliff dwelling and the others like it at Mesa Verde were driven to these defensible positions by "increasing competition amidst changing climatic conditions."[1]

Cliff Palace was abandoned by 1300, and while debate remains as to the causes of this, some believe a series of megadroughts interrupting food production systems is the main cause. Cliff Palace was first discovered in 1888 by Richard Wetherill and Charlie Mason while out looking for stray cattle.[2][3][4]


Cliff Palace

The Cliff Palace was constructed primarily out of sandstone, mortar and wooden beams. The sandstone was shaped using harder stones, and a mortar of soil, water and ash was used to hold everything together. "Chinking" stones were placed within the mortar to fill gaps and provide stability. Many of the walls were decorated with colored earthen plasters, which were the first to erode over time.[citation needed]

Many visitors wonder about the relatively small size of the doorways at Cliff Palace; the explanation being that at the time the average man was under 5' 6", while the average woman was closer to 5'.[citation needed]

The Cliff Palace contains 23 kivas (round sunken rooms of ceremonial importance), and 150 rooms and had a population of approximately 100 people. One kiva, in the center of the ruin, is at a point where the entire structure is partitioned by a series of walls with no doorways or other access portals. The walls of this kiva were plastered with one color on one side and a different color on the opposing side.[5] It is estimated that around 100 people inhabited Cliff Palace during its time of use. "It is thought that Cliff Palace was a social, administrative site with high ceremonial usage".[6]

 Archaeologists believe that the Cliff Palace contained more clans than the surrounding Mesa Verde communities. This belief stems from the higher ratio of rooms to kivas. Cliff Palace has a room to kiva ratio of 9 to 1. The average room to kiva ratio for a Mesa Verde community is 12 to 1.[7] This ratio of kivas to rooms may suggest that Cliff Palace might have been the center of a large polity that included surrounding small communities.[8]

 Thumbnail image for Cliff Palace 1939_L.jpg

Square Tower House

The large square tower, known as Square Tower House, is to the right and almost reaches the cave "roof." It was in ruins by the 1800s. The National Park Service carefully restored it to its approximate height and stature, making it one of the most memorable buildings in the Cliff Palace. It is the tallest structure at Mesa Verde standing at 26 feet tall, with four levels. Square Tower House also is the site of one of the latest construction projects at Mesa Verde, known as the Crow's Nest. Slightly different-colored materials were used to show it was a restoration.[9][10]

Taken and references from: [18.12.2013]

File:Mesa Verde National Park Cliff Palace 2 2006 09 12.jpg

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