Anasazi Indians:
The People Who Vanished

photo courtesy of Mesa Verde National Park

The Anasazi Indians lived in the four corners region of Colorado. Something very strange is connected to them.

Let's start out with the discovery of the ancient ruins of these Native American people in 1882.

A rancher named Benjamin Alfred Wetherill had been talking to other ranchers in the area and was told of native artifacts in the Mancos Canyon in southwestern Colorado.

Mr. Wetherill had always been interested in Native American culture and had found pottery and such on his property, but when he heard about what was found in southwest Colorado, he set out on horseback to see for himself.

Arriving in Mancos Canyon, he didn't see anything right away.  As he moved on, something caught his eye at the rim of a cave.

He climbed the slope and entered the "cave".  The walls were man made and painted.

Pottery, flint chips and clothing were discovered.  But where had these people gone?  More importantly, why had they gone?

courtesy of Mesa Verde National Park

These "caves" were actually apartments which housed 150 rooms.

It was the only Native American archeological discovery that produced more than petroglyphs on the walls or arrowheads and tools.

The apartments were rock houses built right into the cliffs.  More of these cliff dwellings were discovered in the canyons of the mesa.

Some were two and three stories high and had been built with exacting precision.

It was about 550 AD when the Anasazi Indians started to build their homes. 

Mr. Wetherill discovered them about 1300 years later.

The Anasazi Indians Built Homes in the Cliffs of Mountains

Let's look what is known of these vanishing people.

The name Anasazi is Navajo for "the ancient ones."

Mr. Wetherill's findings were the first archaeological collections but other native tribes in the area had known about the cliff dwellings for centuries.

They considered them forbidden and avoided the dwellings.  The Native Americans of the area have never given a reason why this was.

Positive answers as to why the Anasazi Indians disappeared have been lost due to scavengers looting the cliff dwellings and making off with artifacts after Mr. Wetherill's discovery.

However, in 1906, the U.S. Government established the Mesa Verde National Park, to protect the dwellings from further vandalism.

Just a note: The Mesa Verde National Park is the only national park that has human culture as its main theme.

Establishing it allowed scientists to come into the park and continue with their investigation of the native people who once lived here.

My husband and I have visited the national park over the years.  It is a very quiet place.  So quiet that there are no birds to be seen or heard singing.

When you close your eyes, the wind blows over your face and you feel a sense of sorrow coming from the area. 

Could the wind be carrying the spirits of these people that once were thriving here?

It is beautiful.  To see the construction that has lasted for centuries and where native people lived and worked all those many years ago is fascinating.

So over the years, the mystery slowly unraveled.  Keep in mind that there is no factual evidence as to the disappearance, just what scientific detectives have pieced together.

It seems that the weather, location and the Anasazi Indians lifestyle may have lead to their disappearance.

Mesa Verde is thought to be first settled in 1 AD.  By 1300 the people vanished from the area.

The earliest Native Americans were nomads, following the herds of deer and buffalo and gathering plants and berries.

This took place on the valley floors.  Farms were established and crops were raised.

About 550 AD the Anasazi moved from the valley to the mesa were it was cooler in the summer.

They found that the mesa had better soil for growing their crops.  Forests were available for making tools and providing logs for fires.

About 1200 AD, the Anasazi moved into the caves.  No one knows why they moved from the mesa into the cliff dwellings.  There is speculation.

* The mesa was becoming too crowded;

* More land was needed for growing crops;

* The caves offered protection from the elements;

* Maybe another tribe was threatening them and the caves were safe and gave a good vantage point to spot invaders.

They only lived in the cliff dwellings for about 100 years.

More speculation occurs when you look at their disappearance.

Did they leave because of changing weather? (Global warming issues in the year 1200).

According to scientists, there was a drought in 1276 and for years after, there was little snow or rain. The crops failed.

Maybe the population was becoming too large, as evidence by the bigger dwellings that were built.

They may have been threatened by outsiders.  Skeletons have been found in the cliff dwellings that had fractures and holes in the skulls.

Modern scientists have come to the conclusion that the changing natural conditions of the area led to the disappearance of the Anasazi.

It has been speculated that the tribe moved to the south and integrated with the Pueblo people in New Mexico.

Whatever the reason, we will never know what really happened to the Mesa Verde cliff dwellers.

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