The Mesa Verde cliff dwellings are housing structures that were built in caves, and under protruding portions of cliffs, by the Anasazi, an ancient Pueblo People, from 1200-1300 AD. The more than 600 cliff dwellings are made from sandstone and adobe mortar, which make them appear as a seamless part of the landscape. The Mesa Verde cliff dwellings are found in the United States, in Montezuma County, Colorado, which is located in the southwest corner of the state.
The Mesa Verde cliff dwellings owe their name to the tallest tree-covered plateau of the Rocky Mountains, under which they are located. Mesa Verde is Spanish and translates to English as green table. These ancient homes are all uniquely composed due to the diversity of topography.
The Mesa Verde cliff dwellings are evidence that, during the 13th and 14th centuries, the Anasazi were living in large numbers, in easily defendable structures. The dwellings were not built all at once — evidence shows that rooms were added as needed. The cliff dwellings are prime examples of ancient Pueblo architecture because they all include kivas, towers, and pit houses.
The Mesa Verde area was discovered by the Spanish in the 18th century. Despite being the first in the area, the Spanish did not uncover the cliff dwellings, which had been abandoned for hundreds of years, because they are hidden under the plateau. It was not until the area was settled by ranchers in the late 1800s that the cliff dwellings were found.
Unfortunately there were no archaeological standards or procedures when the dwellings were discovered, and many of the artifacts and structures were vandalized, stolen, or damaged. For this reason, definitive information on the dwellings and culture of the Anasazi people who lived there are hard to conclude. The Wetherill family of the area were responsible for the preservation of some of the dwellings. They collected and documented artifacts and sold some to the historical society of Colorado. To aide in preservation, the area was made a national park by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906.
There are a few structures within Mesa Verde National Park that are notable because of their size. The largest is the Cliff Palace which consists of 150 rooms and is thought to have housed as many as 300 people. The second largest cliff dwelling in Mesa Verde is Mug House which has 94 rooms and four different levels. There is also Square House Tower, which has the distinction of being the tallest tower in Mesa Verde.