The Cliff Palace was first excavated and stabilized by Jesse Walter Fewkes of the Smithsonian Institution, in 1909, more than twenty years after it was first seen by European Americans. Archeological work did not resume until about eighty years later, when evidence was discovered of a hierarchical society: a wall divides the Cliff Palace into two parts. It has also been suggested that the site was not continuously occupied except by a small caretaker population of perhaps 100 people. Then, its twenty-three large kivas would have accommodated larger numbers who gathered there only on special occasions, perhaps for the distribution of surplus food. The kiva, traditionally described as a ceremonial room, was a sunken, usually circular chamber entered through an opening from the “plaza” above. It had a ventilated hearth, and ledges and recesses surrounded the central space. The Anasazi may have used the Cliff Palace as living quarters during the winter lull in the agricultural year. The investigation of the site continues.


Mesa Verde Cliff Palace, Colorado, exact date unknown (a.d. 1050–1300).

Mesa Verde was abandoned quite suddenly, around a.d. 1300. The Anasazi left so much behind that it has been suggested that their departure was hasty.

But that is speculation, and other sources suggest that they depleted the resources of the region, leading, through a tragic path of famine and internal wars, to the demise of their culture. Others cite the migration of Navajos and Apaches from the north, and yet others a fifteen-year drought at the end of the thirteenth century. For whatever reason, the Anasazi departed, leaving behind them the amazing and mysterious ruins of an architecture that is one of North America’s greatest archeological treasures.

Further reading

Roberts, David. 1997. In Search of the Old Ones: Exploring the Anasazi World of the Southwest. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Smith, Duane A. 1988. Mesa Verde National Park: Shadows of the Centuries. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas.

Meteora, Greece

The almost flat valley of the Pineios River, north of the town of Kalambaka in Thessaly, is punctuated by spectacular formations of iron gray conglomerate rock, huge, sheer-sided columns abruptly projecting