SIA2610: Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde

Photographer:Calvin J. Hamilton
Copyright:Copyright 2007 Calvin J. Hamilton
Date:26 July 2007
Location:Mesa Verde, Colorado

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Cliff Palace is the largest cliff dwelling in North America. Constructed from sandstone bricks, wooden beams, and a mortar of clay, ash, and water, these buildings have been standing for more than 800 years as a testament to the architectural skills of Ancestral Pueblo people. Of course, it helps that they chose to build the dwelling in the shelter of the alcoves where it was protected from the elements.

The Ancestral Puebloans shaped the sandstone blocks using harder stones collected from nearby river beds. The mortar between the blocks is a mixture of local soil, water and ash. Fitted in the mortar are tiny pieces of stone called "chinking". Chinking stones fill in the gaps within the mortar and added structural stability to the walls. Over the surface of many walls, the people placed a thin coating of paint, called plaster, the first things to erode with time.

Often visitors to the park look at the size of these doorways and wonder about the size of the people who once lived here. An average man was about 5'4" to 5'5" (163cm) tall, while an average woman was 5' to 5'1" (152cm). If you compare them with European people of the same time period, they would have been about the same size. Compared with today, the Ancestral Puebloan's average life span was relatively short, due, in part, to the high infant mortality rate. Most people lived an average of 32-34 years, however some people did live into their 50s and 60s. Approximately 50% of the children died before they reached the age of 5.

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