Why the Ancients disappeared: Southwest United States

Cliffs at Mesa Verde

Early First Americans once lived in the four corners area where Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico meet.  Often called “cliff dwellers” because of their homes built into the cliffs, they also lived on top of the plateaus, originally in pit dwellings and later in stone and mud houses.  They were in the area from roughly 500 A.D. to 1300 A.D. and developed extensive trade routes and the ceremonial center at Chaco Canyon.  When and why they disappeared was a mystery for many years. Modern research shows they were the ancestors of the modern Hopi, Zuni and other Puebloans such as those in Taos and Acoma.

For many years, they were referred to as the Anasazi, a Navajo word that once meant “ancestors of my enemies” and more recently “ancient people.”  More recently, they have been called the Ancient Puebloans as they are not the ancestors of the Navajos, relatively late-comers to the area, and their descendants don’t like the Navajo word.

People still debate why they left their homes.  Was it drought, environmental destruction or perhaps the pressure of enemies.  I believe the massive eruption of the Indonesian volcano Samalas in 1257 was a significant contributor.  The Ancient First Americans were still starting new building projects in the 1240s but were mostly gone by 1300.  In 2012, researchers determined mass graves in London were probably the result of a famine that occurred after that eruption cooled the earth’s atmosphere for several years.  If there was proven famine in Europe, it seems logical to me there might have been famine in North America as well.  The timing is right.

On our fall 2018 trip, we revisited Hovenweep National Monument and Mesa Verde National Park and saw Canyon of the Ancients National Monument managed by BLM for the first time.  Mesa Verde is famous, and Hovenweep is on paved roads, but we had to take a dirt road to the Lowery Pueblo,  We discovered it quite by accident driving in the area.  The Bureau of Land Management has done a good job preserving the ruins and making it attractive to visitors, but because it is off the beaten track, we had the place to ourselves.

Click on photos to enlarge.

Date if our visit: 3 October 2018

About ralietravels

Ray and Alie (Ralie) are a retired couple who love to travel. Even during our working years, we squeezed a trip in whenever we could, often when we had to stretch the budget to do so. We have been fortunate to vacation in all 50 states, all the provinces of Canada and one territory and a little more than 50 countries. We like to drive, but we particularly love to travel back roads to find unusual sights, people, and experiences.
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19 Responses to Why the Ancients disappeared: Southwest United States

  1. They were certainly highly skilled with bricks. Beautiful constructions. And yes, the Samalas eruption has a lot to answer for!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Pit says:

    We’re in the last stages of planning a trip to the Southwest this fall, but Mesa Verde will have to be at another time, unfortunately. It’s still high on the bucket list, though.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Very interesting! And I think that these ancient dwellings should have the same value as of our European medivial towns

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Loraine E Beckman says:

    Absolutely fascinating about the ruins. Love the architecture of the dwellings. Thanks again for the history lesson. Hugs to you both.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I hadn’t heard about the connection between their disappearance and the volcanic eruption, but temporally it makes sense.
    Hovenweep is wonderful for camping. To walk the loop around the canyon early in the morning or late in the day is a wonderful experience.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Sue Slaght says:

    Such fascinating history and such a question as to the disappearance of an entire people. Your thoughts on the possible change of temperature certainly seems reasonable. A most interesting post.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Coral Waight says:

    That’s the first I’ve heard of this area. Fascinating.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. pattimoed says:

    Very interesting post about the sudden demise of an advanced society. Famine sounds like a logical choice. You’ve been to a few parks that we’ve missed. We’ll have to add them to our list for our next trip to that part of the country!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. How could one not be fascinated with the cliff dwellers given their choice of location and mysterious disappearance. I like your theory on the volcanic eruption. Thanks for sharing, Ray. –Curt

    Liked by 2 people

  10. neelstoria says:

    This is such an amazing post. The fact that the ruins have been preserved so well, is commendable. Discovering a place like this by accident makes it sound even better. Unplanned trips have a charm of their own.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Dave Ply says:

    I hadn’t heard that “Anasazi” had become politically incorrect, nor did I know the Navajo meaning. Learn something new every day.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. These pictures deliver a very sound knowledge of architecture during those days.

    Liked by 1 person

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  14. Ray, your theory on global cooling as a cause of the abandonment of the Four Corners Area is an interesting one. I suspect that there were a number of causes for a gradual decline, and in the end, there may have been a catalyst that was the nail in the coffin: like a sustained global cooling event.

    The important thing to remember is that even in the best of times, this area is a harsh, fragile, and marginal area for growing food. The ancients were never very far from starvation and it didn’t take much to push them over the edge. You propose an interesting idea. ~James

    Liked by 1 person

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