The Puebloan people built this village a long time ago, but archaeologists want to find out when. (AP)

The Puebloan people built this village a long time ago, but archaeologists want to find out when. (AP)

The Puebloans left no writings behind to help archaeologists determine the age of these ancient buildings. (AP)

The Puebloans left no writings behind to help archaeologists determine the age of these ancient buildings. (AP)

To help trace the history and movements of the ancient Puebloans, archaeologists have dated old turkey bones. (AP)

To help trace the history and movements of the ancient Puebloans, archaeologists have dated old turkey bones. (AP)

Today, people climb up tall ladders to reach the ancient cliff homes, much like the Pueblos did. (AP)

Today, people climb up tall ladders to reach the ancient cliff homes, much like the Pueblos did. (AP)

The Pueblo village stretches across cliffs to protect the residents from danger. (AP)

The Pueblo village stretches across cliffs to protect the residents from danger. (AP)

Guesses from Garbage

Posted: November 1, 2017

Want to visit this stone village? You’ll have to swallow your fear of heights. The Puebloan Native Americans who built it lived on the edge—literally! They built incredible towns and homes in these Mesa Verde cliffs in Colorado. But they disappeared hundreds of years ago. What happened to them? Now some archaeologists think they have found the answer—by studying turkey bones!

Imagine hopping in a time machine and traveling hundreds of years into the future. People are checking out the remains of your house. What kinds of clues will they find to show who you were? A diary, a shopping list, or a box of books might give them a good start. But archaeologists have a tough task when studying the Puebloans. Puebloans didn’t leave any writings behind.  

The researchers get creative. They dig through the Puebloans’ garbage! At least, they dig through what’s left of it in museums. The Puebloans raised turkeys. The turkey bones they left behind match other old turkey bones from New Mexico.

A group of Native Americans called the Pueblos live in New Mexico today. Could the cliff-builders have moved to New Mexico? Maybe they are the great-great-great (add “great” a bunch more times) grandparents of the Pueblos.

People think the cliff builders left their stone homes in the late 1200s. (That was long before the United States existed. More than 300 years would pass before the pilgrims would even land in America.) Around the year 1200, the Colorado turkeys became common in New Mexico too. Coincidence? Some researchers think not. They think the Puebloans carried the birds there, maybe as little chicks in baskets.

But others feel differently. They want better evidence. And the researchers could keep digging for perfect proof: human DNA from Puebloans who died long ago. But Pueblo Indians living today say, “No way!” Studying those ancient remains would disrespect Pueblo culture. So for now, archaeologists are stuck talking turkey.