Mesa Verde National Park is a National Park and World Heritage Site located in Montezuma County, Colorado. It protects some of the best preserved Ancestral Puebloan archeological sites in the United States.
The park was created by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. It occupies 52,485 acres (21,240 ha) near the Four Corners region of the American Southwest, and with more than 4,300 sites, including 600 cliff dwellings, it is the largest archeological preserve in the US. Mesa Verde (Spanish for “green table”) is best known for structures such as Cliff Palace, thought to be the largest cliff dwelling in North America.
Starting c. 7500 BCE, Mesa Verde was seasonally inhabited by a group of nomadic Paleo-Indians known as the Foothills Mountain Complex. The variety of projectile points found in the region indicates they were influenced by surrounding areas, including the Great Basin, the San Juan Basin, and the Rio Grande Valley. Later, Archaic people established semi-permanent rockshelters in and around the mesa. By 1000 BCE, the Basketmaker culture emerged from the local Archaic population, and by 750 CE the Ancestral Puebloans had developed from the Basketmaker culture.
The Mesa Verdeans survived using a combination of hunting, gathering, and subsistence farming of crops such as corn, beans, and squash. They built the mesa’s first pueblos sometime after 650, and by the end of the 12th century they began to construct the massive cliff dwellings for which the park is best known. By 1285, following a period of social and environmental instability driven by a series of severe and prolonged droughts, they abandoned the area and moved south to locations in Arizona and New Mexico, including Rio Chama, Pajarito Plateau, and Santa Fe.
The first occupants of the Mesa Verde region, which spans from southeastern Utah to northwestern New Mexico, were nomadic Paleo-Indians who arrived in the area c. 9500 BCE. They followed herds of big game and camped near rivers and streams, many of which dried up as the glaciers that once covered parts of the San Juan Mountains receded. The earliest Paleo-Indians were the Clovis culture and Folsom tradition, defined largely by the way in which they fashioned projectile points. Although they left evidence of their presence throughout the region, there is little indication that they lived in central Mesa Verde during this time.
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After 9600 BCE, the area’s environment grew warmer and drier, which brought pine forests and the animals that thrive in them to central Mesa Verde. Paleo-Indians began inhabiting the mesa in increasing numbers c. 7500, though it is unclear whether they were seasonal occupants or year-round residents. Development of the atlatl during this period made it easier for them to hunt smaller game, a crucial advance at a time when most of the region’s big game had disappeared from the landscape.
6000 BCE marks the beginning of the Archaic period in North America. Archeologists differ as to the origin of the Mesa Verde Archaic population; some believe they developed exclusively from local Paleo-Indians, called the Foothills Mountain Complex, but others suggest that the variety of projectile points found in Mesa Verde indicates influence from surrounding areas, including the Great Basin, the San Juan Basin, and the Rio Grande Valley. The Archaic people probably developed locally, but were also influenced by contact, trade, and intermarriage with immigrants from these outlying areas.
The early Archaic people living near Mesa Verde utilized the atlatl and harvested a wider variety of plants and animals than the Paleo-Indians had, while retaining their primarily nomadic lifestyle. They inhabited the outlying areas of the Mesa Verde region, but also the mountains, mesa tops, and canyons, where they created rockshelters and rock art, and left evidence of animal processing and chert knapping. Environmental stability during the period drove population expansion and migration. Major warming and drying from 5000 to 2500 might have led middle Archaic people to seek the cooler climate of Mesa Verde, whose higher elevation brought increased snowpack that, when coupled with spring rains, provided relatively plentiful amounts of water.
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Story source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mesa_Verde_National_Park