These abandoned cliff villages make Ancestral Puebloans a historical mystery. Who were they?

These abandoned cliff villages make Ancestral Puebloans a historical mystery. Who were they?

Puebloans were previously called the

Puebloans were previously called the "Basketmakers," and were good at climbing to get back to their villages.

Ancient Puebloans are the likely ancestors of the Pueblo Indians today, who are named for their pueblo housing style. (National Park Service)

Ancient Puebloans are the likely ancestors of the Pueblo Indians today, who are named for their pueblo housing style. (National Park Service)

Who Were the Cliff Dwellers?

Posted: November 1, 2017

Ancient Puebloans moved to Mesa Verde around 1,400 years ago. Mesa Verde means ‘steep, green hill with a flat top’—and that’s exactly what their home was. The Puebloans weren’t known for cliff villages back then. They had another name: the Basketmakers. They made homes from poles, wove baskets, and grew food on the top of their mesa.

No one knows the whole story of the Ancestral Puebloans. But we can learn a lot about them from the homes they left behind. We know they made good plans and worked hard to carry them out. Eventually, they became excellent stone workers. They used blocks about the size of bread loaves to build thick stone buildings up to three stories high. We also know Puebloans were tough. Some walls in their villages are stained black with smoke. That shows the Pueblos survived freezing winters by building fires. Their high-up villages demonstrate their courage and cleverness. Their hard-to-get-to homes protected them from enemies. Archaeologists wonder: For Puebloans, was learning to scale the side of a cliff a normal part of growing up?

Ancestral Puebloans hunted for food. They kept just two kinds of tamed animals: turkeys and dogs. When they didn’t need an item anymore, they pitched it down the cliff. Now that’s a serious garbage chute! Treating your trash like that wouldn’t be appreciated in the United States today. But we do appreciate the Puebloans for doing it. Most of what we know about the people comes from studying their trash—broken pots and animal bones included.

Ancestral Puebloans don’t exist today. That’s why they’re called ancestral, or ancestors. But Pueblo Indians do. Different Pueblo tribes live in New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas. They get their name because they live in pueblos—stone, adobe, or wooden villages with flat roofs similar to the ones in the Mesa Verde cliffs.