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Park Overview

The cliff dwellings, the final product of 600 years of cultural development on the Mesa Verde, were built and occupied between CE 1200 and 1300. The spectacular setting and the well-preserved state of these structures resulted in Mesa Verde being the first cultural national park in the U.S. in 1906 and the first nomination by the United States government to the World Cultural Heritage Sites List in 1978. Descendants of these ancient peoples, the Pueblo Indians of Arizona and New Mexico, continue to venerate these sites, representing a cultural continuity unique for North America and much of the world. Excavation and preservation has been continuous at Mesa Verde since its discovery. The structures interpreted to the public have been preserved over the years with a minimum of repair and replacement, resulting in a cultural resource of great integrity and authenticity. A renewed project of conservation and site management has been underway since 1994 by the Architectural Conservation Laboratory of the University of Pennsylvania and the National Park Service.


Site History

In the thirteenth century a fairly unique trend appeared in the northern American Southwest. Many local farm families, whose ancestors had been living primarily on mesa tops and in broad canyons and valleys for six centuries, moved into the natural alcoves found in cliffs to build their homes and ceremonial architecture. These people are the ancestors of the Pueblo Indians of Arizona and New Mexico. Thirteenth century cliff dwellings are found in many canyons on the northern Colorado Plateau, an area that stretches in an arc from the Mesa Verde on the east across the canyon country of Utah on the north and ending in the Tsegi Canyon area of Arizona on the west. In a matter of a few generations, cliff dwellings and ceremonial architecture were built, modified, and then abandoned. By the end of the thirteenth century construction had stopped in all of these areas.