Mesa Verde National Park contains some of the best-preserved Anasazi cliff-dwellings on Earth.
The Anasazi (also called Hisatsinom or Ancestral Pueblo people) were descended from the earlier
Archaic and Basketmaker Cultures. The Basketmaker Culture people inhabited Mesa Verde from
500-550 AD, establishing pit house communities which flourished until about 750 AD, when the
people started building above ground pole-and-mud houses which define the Pueblo I period.
The pit house evolved into the ceremonial kiva. Later, after they had developed the masonry
techniques for which they are famous (about 1000 AD in this location), they began to build
the mesa top villages out of stone, and by the late 1190s they were building cliff dwellings.

The most famous of these cliff dwellings is Cliff Palace, the largest in North America. Built
from 1190 to 1260, Cliff Palace and the other cliff dwellings were built due to a greater need
for defenses caused by increased competition. The Great Drought which lasted for 300 years
beginning in 1130 caused tribes to raid for food and supplies all over the Southwest, and many
tribes moved from canyon floors to mesa tops (and built cliff dwellings in some locations for the
added defense they offered). There are other explanations for the move back into cliff alcoves,
but evidence from other areas in the Southwest reinforces this hypothesis. Regardless, by
the late 1270s to 1290s, the population began to drift away from Mesa Verde and by
1300 it was deserted. Modern Pueblo people state that the Anasazi moved south
to more stable and consistent sources of water and moved in with cousins.

Mesa Verde is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings

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Mesa Verde is considered to be the type site of the Anasazi Ancestral Puebloan culture.
Over 600 cliff dwellings are located at Mesa Verde, and over 4000 archaeological sites.
While there are few Paleo-Indian sites (before 5500 BC), a few projectile points found in
the area indicate some Paleo-Indian presence. The Archaic people (5500-500 BC) left
many artifacts indicating their presence on the Colorado Plateau, including Mesa Verde.

The Basketmaker II people (500 BC to 500 AD) were the first to become dependent on agriculture, giving up their nomadic lifestyle and establishing settled villages. The Basketmaker II villages were in the Western and Eastern borderlands rather than in Central Mesa Verde. People in the West descended from Archaic peoples who migrated from southern Arizona and those in the East were people who descended from the original Archaic inhabitants of the Colorado Plateau.

In the Late Basketmaker II era, increasing populations caused the expansion of these two cultures into the center of the Mesa Verde region. The Anasazi settled the Mesa Verde region at the beginning of the Basketmaker III era in 500-550 AD.


Mesa Verde Cliff Canyon Fewkes Canyon X9723
(756 KB)

The junction of Cliff Canyon (left to right) and Fewkes Canyon, with Chapin Mesa in
the background. Shot from Sun Point Overlook on a cold December morning, this image
shows Cliff Palace (top left) and Sunset House (top right) in the context of their surroundings.
Fewkes Canyon is a short box canyon off Cliff Canyon with some exceptional cliff dwellings.

Jesse Walter Fewkes was an early 20th c. archaeologist and anthropologist
who excavated at Mesa Verde and other ancient sites, and was one of the first to
bring the vandalism of these fragile sites to the attention of the government, which
led to the protection of these ancient Puebloan sites by the early 20th century.


Mesa Verde Sunset House X9714
(840 KB)

Sunset House is opposite Sun Point overlooking Cliff Canyon on the same (east) wall of Chapin Mesa as the Cliff Palace. Sunset House can only be seen from across the canyon as it is deep in an alcove protected by an overhang.


Mesa Verde Sunset House X9703
(756 KB)

Sunset House contains 33 rooms and four Kivas set on two ledges. This is the most prominent of the two story rooms. Behind this structure were three dry-wall masonry turkey pens. Inhabitants carried water from a spring opposite Cliff Palace.


Mesa Verde Cliff Palace X9709
(746 KB)

Cliff Palace and the top of Chapin Mesa. The Colorado light on December 30th is variable, and I have presented images taken in flat light (low contrast images) and in sunlight.


Mesa Verde Cliff Palace X9820
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Cliff Palace taken in a rare ray of sunlight. This was one time when it was actually better not to have sunlight on the subject, as the reflectivity of the sandstone made contrast too high.

In the Pueblo I era (750-900 AD) the population boomed. Pottery and the Bow and Arrow were introduced during this time, and farming of domesticated beans and corn became increasingly important. The first early pit-house communities were established, and in these communities the first public structures were built, called Kivas. Derived from the pit-house, the Kiva served as a focal point of the community where ceremonies and events were held. Structures began to be built above ground, including living and storage spaces, but at the end of the Pueblo I period changes in climatic conditions caused people to begin moving out of the Mesa Verde area, some moving to Chaco Canyon.

Only a small population remained in Mesa Verde at the beginning of the Pueblo II period (900-1150 AD), and people lived in small farmsteads clustered around community centers with storage facilities, Kivas and Great Kivas. During this period, the connection to Chaco Canyon 100 miles to the south prompted the building of Chaco-style Great Houses in the Mesa Verde area, but this was a short-lived phenomenon. The Great Drought which began in 1130 AD ended the building of Great Houses.

People began moving out of their isolated farmsteads and into the community centers. Large villages were established at the canyon heads and in rock alcoves in the canyon walls. Between 1200 and 1250, population boomed in the area, and extended villages like Cliff Palace were built, but by about 1285 the Anasazi had left the area, moving south to other Pueblo villages.


Mesa Verde Cliff Palace Left X9765
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Detail of 75% of the left side of the Cliff Palace complex. This is the largest and best known of the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde. It is an aggregate of various different sorts of dwellings and storehouses that accumulated over time.


Mesa Verde Cliff Palace Right X9768
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Detail of 75% of the right side of Cliff Palace. Much of the important archaeological material was looted from the site in the late 1800s. This magnificent site contained 150 rooms and 23 kivas, providing living space for 100-150 people.


Mesa Verde Cliff Palace X9765 9768 M
(755 KB)

This image is a composite of the previous two images. The full-size image is XXL (6000 x 2820).
This preview is larger than many preview images at 1800 x 900 pixels to allow examination of detail.

Cliff Palace is in a 263 foot by 66 foot rock alcove below the edge of Chapin Mesa overlooking Cliff Canyon (see the view of the canyon at the top of this section). Cliff Palace contains 150 rooms and 23 Kivas. The floor of the alcove slopes, and rooms are built on several terraced levels. This is the largest village cluster in Mesa Verde, and it housed 100-150 people. There was no water available in the dwelling itself, but a well was located below Cliff Palace in Cliff Canyon. There is also a viable spring across the canyon at the mouth of Fewkes Canyon, and several water seeps from which water was carried.


Mesa Verde Cliff Palace Left Detail X9728c
(653 KB)

Close detail of the left half of Cliff Palace, including additional area at left.
The section on the far left side contains a Kiva and a number of small rooms.

The large boulder in the center of the image which has several vertical cracks was stabilized in 1934 by the Park Service with 70 tons of steel and concrete hidden behind the wall seen above the boulder. The Anasazi were also apparently worried about this boulder, as they had shored it up with masonry which was discovered during the stabilization efforts.


Mesa Verde Cliff Palace Left Detail X9765c
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Close detail of the right half of the image above, showing 25% of the left side of Cliff Palace.
Because of the uneven floor of this alcove, the Anasazi created six distinct terraces, and built
their structures on boulders or on the level terraces they created. Kivas were built in the spaces
between the boulders, and after the walls were built the extra spaces were then filled with rubble.
Twenty of the Kivas are of the type typical of Mesa Verde, but three of them are square with
rounded corners. These three were built without benches and the pilaster roof supports.

Note the vertical cracks in the boulder and Anasazi masonry below it and inside the large crack. The doorways were quite small to keep out the cold air in the winter months. During the winter, the Anasazi would cover the doors with sandstone slabs to keep out the wind. In the summer, they would use willow mats, skins or hides to cover the doors for privacy.

The structures are made of dressed sandstone blocks held together with mud mortar. Small “chinking” stones were inserted in gaps in the mortar to provide stability to the walls. If you look at the ledge above the structures, you will see the remains of 14 storage rooms which were accessed via the small doorway at top center. A short ladder placed atop the tower below rested in the two notches visible below the doorway. This kept out children, domestic turkeys and vermin.


Mesa Verde Cliff Palace Right Detail X9769c
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Close detail of the right third of Cliff Palace. Just left of center is the two story round tower.
Each of the stones in this tower are rounded and the tower tapers towards the top, making
it one of the finest examples of stonework in Mesa Verde. When the tower was first entered,
the only object found in it was an absolutely exquisite stone ax, according to the descriptions.

At the bottom left corner, the bottom center, the lower right center and the upper left center can be seen four keyhole-shaped kivas. Detail of Mesa Verde style Kivas can be seen further below in the section detailing the Spruce Tree House.

Note the very high quality finish work on these masonry structures. Besides the Kivas, there are living rooms, granaries (food), storage rooms (non-food items), and rooms for grinding corn (mealing rooms). Some Kivas were used as living spaces when they were not in ceremonial use, which is indicated by the fact that some Kivas do not have the associated living rooms with hearths or any storage rooms of either type. Cliff Palace was literally divided in two villages at about the left edge of this image, with atypical Kivas and large featureless rooms duplicated on both sides of the ‘dividing line’. It is thought that the division is based upon clan or social separation. Some other Mesa Verde Houses were also divided in the same way.


Cliff Palace Square Tower X9769c
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Right of the edge of the detail crop above is Square Tower shown in the detail crop left, the tallest structure in Cliff Palace.

When Richard Wetherill, Charlie Mason and Acowitz (a Ute tribal member) first saw Cliff Palace while searching for some stray cattle in December 1888, Square Tower had collapsed on the left side. Jesse Walter Fewkes reconstructed the tower during a 1909 expedition to excavate and repair Cliff Palace, and it was rebuilt again in 1934 during the reconstruction project which shored up the large boulder (due to the poor quality of the Fewkes reconstruction). The Park Service used lighter plaster to emphasize the fact that it was reconstructed (note the lighter area above the second level of latilla holes). This is the most thoroughly reconstructed part of Cliff Palace.

Richard Wetherill became an amateur explorer, guide, and excavator after finding Cliff Palace and Spruce Tree House, and was responsible for selecting “Anasazi” (a Navajo term meaning “ancient ones” or “enemy ancestors”) to describe the people who built the cliff dwellings. Wetherill gave Cliff Palace its name, and he was the first to excavate it (although many archaeologists consider him a villain who plundered the ruins for pottery and artifacts). Wetherill was also among the first to excavate in Chaco Canyon. In 1893, during an expedition to the Grand Gulch area, he discovered Cave 7, which contained numerous skeletons and artifacts including several baskets but no pottery. These discoveries were three feet below the Cliff Dweller level, and in coining a name for these people, they came up with the term Basketmakers. Wetherill also discovered Kiet Siel near Monument Valley in Navajo National Monument while searching for a wandering mule.

Wetherill was responsible for the discovery of two major Indian cultures, and his activities resulted in the formation of three National Parks and two National Monuments.


Mesa Verde Cliff Palace X9760
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The talus slope in front of Cliff Palace was used as a refuse heap and burial ground.
The Anasazi buried their dead in the talus most likely because it was far easier to dig
in the talus than it was to dig the rock hard earth, especially during the winter months.
The bodies were wrapped in a yucca mat, rabbit fur robe or turkey feather blanket
and buried in a flexed position, knees to chest, with jewelry, ornaments, pottery,
tools and other objects that may have been considered useful in the next life.


Mesa Verde Fewkes Canyon Cliff Canyon X9720
(895 KB)

The edge of Chapin Mesa, where Fewkes Canyon meets Cliff Canyon. At the upper left is
Oak Tree House. Atop the mesa is the Sun Temple, and directly below it is Mummy House.
Across Cliff Canyon, at the upper right, is the large rock alcove containing the Cliff Palace.

Frederick H. Chapin was a mountaineer, photographer, amateur archaeologist and author
who in 1889 and 1890 used Richard Wetherill as a guide to Mesa Verde. He took many of
the early photographs of the cliff dwellings and wrote “The Land of the Cliff Dwellers” (1892).


Mesa Verde Mummy House X9730
(875 KB)

Mummy House was constructed on a narrow ledge below the top of Chapin Mesa, directly below the Sun Temple.


Mesa Verde Mummy House Penthouse X9704
(689 KB)

Mounted in the shallow alcove above Mummy House is the “penthouse” structure, which may have been a granary.


Mesa Verde Mummy House X9726 M
(789 KB)

The walls of the “penthouse” granary were intact when Mummy House was found, as it
was protected by the overhang. The several small structures on the ledge were in ruins.
Only the wall stubs of ten rooms and two Kivas remain, but several of these rooms must
have stood two stories tall to allow access to the perfectly intact two story building above.
Fewkes found a well-preserved mummy there, from which the Mummy House got its name.


Mesa Verde Oak Tree House X9711
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A telephoto closeup of Oak Tree House taken from Sun Point. Other images were taken from further down Fewkes Canyon.


Mesa Verde Oak Tree House X9738
(815 KB)

The Anasazi made use of every available space in the alcove, and leveled the floor surface by filling in behind retaining walls.


Mesa Verde Oak Tree House X9737
(796 KB)

Oak Tree House contains about 50 rooms and 6 Kivas. Some of the structures rose
four stories to the roof of the inner alcove. There are storage rooms on the upper ledge.
The secular rooms within the cave were roofless (the cave forming the roof, and in some
cases, one of the room walls). They included living rooms, grinding and cooking rooms,
and some storage rooms. One of the more unusual walls found was made entirely of
willow branches set in mud (rather than masonry), and some of the masonry walls
were of the highest quality stonework present in cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde.


Mesa Verde Oak Tree House X9741
(705 KB)

Oak Tree House is located in an alcove on the northern side of Fewkes Canyon. It was excavated and repaired by Fewkes in 1915 near the end of his work on the nearby Sun Temple. The alcove Oak Tree House is built in is the most symmetrical in Mesa Verde. Below the lower arch, a deep cave extends well into the cliff, protecting most of the cliff dwelling.


Mesa Verde Oak Tree House X9744
(810 KB)

Artifacts found in Oak Tree House included stone implements (axes, metates, corn mounds, etc.), unbaked clay objects and pottery, bone implements, prayer sticks and other wooden implements, wooden snow shoes, woven basketwork ‘pillows’ and woven fabrics, and straw brushes which were identical to the Hopi brushes used to clean metates after grinding corn.


Mesa Verde Oak Tree House X9742
(795 KB)

The T-shaped doorway visible to the left of center is the earliest in a cliff dwelling, dated 1205.

The structures of Oak Tree House completely cover the floor of the cave under the lower arch.
Kivas are located outside the cave to the center and right and at both the left and right wings.
Many walls of Oak Tree House were in a good state of preservation due to shelter by the cave.
The kivas were all roofed and entered by ladders, although the roofs were destroyed when found.
There was an unusual D-shaped Kiva, and a non-ceremonial round room in the rear of the cave,
the wall of which was made of willow sticks set in mortar (called “stick-and-adobe” construction).


Images in this section are in a number of different Galleries on the Photoshelter website.
The Banner below leads to the Indian Lands & Anasazi Sites Collection where a Gallery can be selected.


There are 14 Sections in the Photoshelter Indian Lands & Anasazi Sites Collection

Direct Links to images from Mesa Verde:

Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings

Indian Lands Select
(150 Selected images)


Mesa Verde Fire Temple and New Fire House X9757
(765 KB)

Fire Temple and New Fire House are further down Fewkes Canyon beyond Oak Tree House.
When the site was originally excavated by Jesse Walter Fewkes in 1915, New Fire House was
completely covered with soil and debris, and ruins were barely visible. He thought the structures
on the ledge above New Fire House were part of Fire Temple, which he called “Painted House”.
New Fire House was named for the New Fire ceremony of the Hopi. Fewkes spent many years
among the Hopi in his early career. They had survived in isolation on their mesas in a primitive
state, and offered insight into native cultures without contamination from outside influences.

Fewkes believed that both Fire Temple and Sun Temple were linked with Sun-Fire-Serpent worship (associated with fertility and agricultural productivity), and that residents of New Fire House were the attendants of the ‘eternal flame’ at Fire Temple, whose central firepit was kept burning at all times. Fire Temple is unique among cliff dwellings in that it is the only one with a large circular raised firepit in the center of a rectangular enclosure.

There are indications that Kivas used to have a fire burning at all times in the past, although they no longer do, reinforcing the assumption that this Temple is similar to a specialized Kiva, and that the remnants of the cult and the descendants of the priests (possibly the Yaya Priests) later maintained the Fire cult in Kivas.


Mesa Verde Fire Temple X9818
(775 KB)

Fewkes called Fire Temple “Painted House” because of the pictographs found there. Fire Temple is basically a Great Kiva adapted to an alcove, with rectangular rooms at each end. Three pits are present in the structure, an oblong pit to the left of the west vault, a D-shaped pit behind the Firepit (the raised circular hearth), and an oval pit to the right of the east vault.


Mesa Verde Fire Temple X9748
(781 KB)

The two open areas are large and flat, and Fewkes believed these areas were used by dancers and for other community purposes such as ceremonies similar to the New Fire rites of modern Puebloans such as the Hopi. On the far left side (west of the open area) are the foundations of a four room complex and a D-shaped ventilation shaft to an unexcavated Kiva.


Mesa Verde Fire Temple Detail X9748c
(655 KB)

After completing the excavation and determining the purpose of the site,
Fewkes renamed the site Fire Temple (formerly known as “Painted House”).
Fire sticks from the ceremonies had been found in several of the cliff dwellings.
The descendant ceremonies are probably the Lesser Fire ceremony of the Hopi,
called Sumaikoli, as it is the one associated with the phallic spirit figure Kokopelli.

The central structure has features identical to those of a Kiva. Enclosed by a low masonry wall is a raised central firepit flanked by two rectangular vaults. The purpose of these vaults has not been determined. In modern Hopi Kivas they are covered with planks and used as foot drums. Behind the firepit and vaults is a bench and open area, whose rear wall is the rear of the cave.

Three rooms on the left are larger than the two on the right (east), which were painted with red figures on white plaster. These pictographs were rain clouds, various sorts of animal figures, and men with erect phalluses holding bows. A prudish visitor had erased the phallic figures before Fewkes arrived to excavate Fire Temple in 1915, but drawings had been made. The phallic figures are thought to be some manifestation of the spirit figure Kokopelli.


Mesa Verde New Fire House X9746
(775 KB)

Evidence indicates that New Fire House was the residence of the people who tended the flame at Fire Temple. These may have been the predecessors of the Yaya Priesthood, who were responsible for conducting the New Fire ceremonies of the modern Pueblo people, such as the Hopi.


Mesa Verde New Fire House X9817
(849 KB)

The image above of New Fire Temple was taken during one of those rare moments when sun illuminated Fewkes Canyon. Light in Mesa Verde on December 30th can be variable. As you can see, it is actually better when the light is diffuse, as it allows viewing of detail in the rear of the alcove.


Mesa Verde New Fire House X9755
(635 KB)

A 16 x 9 image showing the entire alcove containing the upper and lower ruins of New Fire House.

Most of the 20 living rooms are on the upper ledge. Three Kivas and some living rooms are below.
Both of these overhangs are quite low, restricting the rooms of New Fire House to only one story.


Mesa Verde Square Tower House X9694
(557 KB)

Located in an eastern spur of Navajo Canyon is the Square Tower House.
Measuring 138 feet from end to end, it is a continuous structure with 70 rooms.
The tower foundation rests on a boulder five feet above the plaza level, and the tower
rises 35 feet over the level of the foundation. It has three masonry walls (the 4th is the cliff).

Not long after this image was taken, a 4.5 ton flake fell off of the cliff face and damaged part of
Rooms 1, 2, 3 and Kiva B at the far left of this image, left of Kiva A (the walled circular structure).
Kiva B is the largest at Square Tower House, and one of two with part of its original roof intact.


Mesa Verde Square Tower House X9811
(442 KB)

The four story Square Tower and the preserved Kiva roofs are the most notable features of Square Tower House. Fewkes repaired the tower during his work in the season of 1919, and while some archaeologists think that some of the restoration was less than accurate, the tower was in danger of falling and his work preserved what is the tallest tower in Mesa Verde.


Mesa Verde Square Tower House X9812
(423 KB)

The roofs of two of the eight Kivas in Square Tower House were nearly intact and showed the best specimens of original woodwork in Mesa Verde. Some of the best preserved Kivas in the Southwest are Kivas A and B in Square Tower House. Both of the Kivas had nearly intact roofs and cribbing timbers, with six pilasters supporting the cribbed roof timbers.


Mesa Verde Square Tower House X9811 c1 M
(504 KB)


Mesa Verde Square Tower House X9811 c2 M
(514 KB)

I have provided four detail crops showing masonry of various parts of the central section of Square Tower House.
The upper left image shows Square Tower, Kiva F to the right of the tower, and rooms to the left and right of the tower.
The upper right image shows detail of Kiva E and rooms to the left of the tower, in front of the tower, and Kiva F (at right).


Mesa Verde Square Tower House X9812 c1 M
(506 KB)


Mesa Verde Square Tower House X9812 c2 M
(503 KB)

To the right of the tower you can see the entrance to Kiva F, one of two Square Tower House Kivas with a nearly intact roof.
The complex to the right of Kiva F (rooms 35-40) is a tightly clustered two and three story structure between Kivas F and G.


Mesa Verde Square Tower House X9693c
(638 KB)

Square Tower House was built between 1205 and 1281 at the height of the population of Mesa Verde,
when the number of people were beginning to stress the available resources in the area. Because of the
depletion of resources, 23 years of drought, social pressures and other reasons, the people migrated south
and abandoned Mesa Verde in the late 1200s. Square Tower House was occupied for only two generations.


Mesa Verde Aligned Kiva X9695
(757 KB)

Kiva 1 of Unit Pueblo II is one of the Mesa Top Sites. This is a Pueblo II era Kiva (1000 AD), and shows the alignment and architecture. At left, below the keyhole-shaped recess is the ventilator shaft, the airstream from which is blocked by the deflector between the vent and the firepit. Above and below the firepit are floor cists. Directly in line with the deflector and firepit is the spirit hole (Sipapu). The other holes are either post holes or cylindrical floor pits depending on location. The bench (or banquette) around the perimeter holds the pilaster roof supports. This is a fully developed Mesa Verde type Kiva.


Mesa Verde Pit House X9696
(747 KB)

A Basketmaker III period Pit House (c. 700 AD) in the Badger House Community area of the Mesa Top Sites. The pithouse is dug about three feet below the surface and lined with stone to form the bench, with a deeper antechamber. Four posts within the main chamber supported the roof, and a set of small posts set into the perimeter bench formed the walls. The roof and slanting walls were covered with a thatch formed of small branches and brush, and the entire exterior was sealed with a layer of adobe. Ladders in the hatch over the antechamber or the smoke-hole hatch in the main chamber allowed entry.


Images in this section are in a number of different Galleries on the Photoshelter website.
The Banner below leads to the Indian Lands & Anasazi Sites Collection where a Gallery can be selected.


There are 14 Sections in the Photoshelter Indian Lands & Anasazi Sites Collection

Direct Links to images from Mesa Verde:

Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings

Indian Lands Select
(150 Selected images)


Mesa Verde Spruce Tree House X9691
(787 KB)

Spruce Tree House is located below Chapin Mesa in a sandstone alcove near the largest spring
in Mesa Verde at the head of Spruce Tree Canyon. The alcove is 216 feet wide and 89 feet deep.
The cliff dwelling is the third largest in Mesa Verde, and it is considered to be the best preserved.
Spruce Tree House contains 114 sandstone and adobe living and storage rooms and eight Kivas.
The cliff dwelling was built between 1211-1278 AD, and was home to between 80 and 100 people.

Spruce Tree House was ‘discovered’ in December 1888 by Richard Wetherill and Charlie Mason.
After they first saw Cliff Palace, they stayed in the area to explore for two days and found several of
the other cliff dwellings, including Spruce Tree House. Dr. Jesse Walter Fewkes excavated the ruin
in 1907, but it had already been ransacked for artifacts in the two decades after it was discovered.


Mesa Verde Spruce Tree House X9683
(786 KB)

The left (northern) side of Spruce Tree House. Plaza C, the largest plaza (in the center) has
two reconstructed Kivas (Kivas C and D). Its rear wall is formed by Three Story House, the
structure with two large T-shaped doorways on the second level in the center of the image.
Rectangular openings in the front wall of the plaza are ventilation holes for Kivas C and D.


Mesa Verde Spruce Tree House X9686
(728 KB)

The image above shows the central and southern sections of Spruce Tree House from
Plaza C, Kiva D and Three Story House on the left to Kiva H and Room 62 on the right.

Spruce Tree House is divided into two groups of rooms by “Main Street” (Open Area 18),
which is just to the left of the round tower in the center of the image above. Main Street is
the only avenue leading from the front to the rear of the cave. The northern section to the
left of Main Street contains the majority of rooms and is older than the southern section.
Some of the finest masonry at Spruce Tree House is the northern wall of Main Street.


Mesa Verde Spruce Tree House
Kivas Three Story House X9794
(570 KB)

Kiva C in the foreground, and the largest plaza: Plaza C. The room at the left center with most of the front wall gone is room 15. This room was so unstable that Fewkes mounted a beam between the lateral walls to support them.


Mesa Verde Spruce Tree House
Three Story House X9772
(535 KB)

Kiva D in the foreground, partially reconstructed with modern timbers, and Three Story House (background). The tower right of Kiva D is rooms 26, 27 & 28. Fewkes rebuilt the masonry above the Plaza C door to room 26 to tie the walls together.


Mesa Verde Spruce Tree House Kivas Three Story House X9798
(549 KB)

Kivas C and D, Plaza C, and Three Story House. Note the darker masonry above the door
leading to room 26, added by Fewkes to stabilize the walls. Reconstruction of Kivas C and D
recreated the floor of Plaza C, which originally contained firepits, grinding stones (metates),
and small shrines. Plaza C was a primary living and working space for the inhabitants.


Mesa Verde Spruce Tree House
Three Story House X9773
(385 KB)

The front wall and the ventilation shaft for Kiva D (at left), with rooms 26-28 and Three Story House in the background.


Mesa Verde Spruce Tree House
Kiva Tower X9784
(411 KB)

Kiva E, Room 26, and rooms 27-28 (the Tower). Fewkes had to structurally brace the upper story of the tower (room 28).


Mesa Verde Spruce Tree House Kiva Tower X9782
(565 KB)

Detail of Room 26, with the low curved wall next to Kiva E. Note the T-shaped doorway
to room 35, behind Kiva E at the right side of this image. This block of rooms (30 to 44)
behind Kiva E has the most substantial and best constructed walls in Spruce Tree House.
The right (southern) walls of this complex form part of the northern side of Main Street. Note
the partial balcony above the T-shaped door at the right of the image, and the filled-in
doorway above. This balcony once extended completely across the rear plaza wall.


Mesa Verde Spruce Tree House Central Kiva X9780
(367 KB)

Kiva E, and the opening to the passageway leading to steps near an opening in the floor of room 35 behind the Kiva on the left (room 36 is behind the Kiva on the right).


Mesa Verde Spruce Tree House Central Kiva X9778
(344 KB)

Kiva E is a Keyhole-shaped Kiva like many at Mesa Verde. It has six pilasters on the bench (banquette) which supported cribbed roof timbers. Note the niches in the wall of the bench.


Mesa Verde Spruce Tree House Central Detail X9788
(534 KB)

An overview of the central area shows Kiva E, rooms 35 and 36 behind it with T-shaped doorways, and the rest of the block of rooms which form the northern border of Main Street. The upper stories of rooms 50-53 on the right were reconstructed.


Mesa Verde Spruce Tree House Central Kiva X9775
(513 KB)

From this angle, the Keyhole shape of Kiva E is apparent. Note how the boulder has been incorporated into the masonry wall. Room 35 at left, which connects to the Kiva, was the best preserved room, with well-built fireplaces in the corners.

Kiva E was one of the best preserved of the Kivas at Spruce Tree House, and showed all of the typical structures of the Mesa Verde type Kiva. It also had a passageway to room 35, which was postulated to be the room of a chief or possibly a priest, who may have kept ceremonial paraphernalia stored in the room as well as using it as a living space (based upon the fireplaces).


Mesa Verde Spruce Tree House Left Side X9796
(545 KB)

The rear of Plaza C on the left side. Rooms 10 and 11 are on the left and form the north plaza border. Room 11 was a mortuary chamber. Room 12 (left rear) was a ceremonial chamber known as an “estufa of singular construction”.


Mesa Verde Spruce Tree House Right Side X9785
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Room 62 and Kiva H, the largest Kiva (oval). Much of the wall of Room 62 was reconstructed (note the arc of plaster). This was the greatest amount of reconstruction done in Spruce Tree House. Interior detail of Kiva H is shown further below.


Mesa Verde Spruce Tree House Interior Detail X9793
(398 KB)

Known as “Main Street”, the passageway at left is the only route from the front to the back of the cave (Open Area 18). The 1 sec. exposure shows the southern sides of rooms 44 and 43, and on the right is the partially ruined wall of room 87. 


Mesa Verde Spruce Tree House Left Tower X9810
(629 KB)

Room 1 (left) and Rooms 2 and 3. Behind Rooms 2 and 3 is Room 4 and Kiva A. Both Rooms 2, 3 and 4 are elevated, making Kiva A appear to be subterranean. Rooms 2, 3 and 4 were built after Kiva A, requiring the elevated construction.


Mesa Verde Spruce Tree House Left Tower X9808
(429 KB)

Room 1 on the left, whose floor is built upon a boulder, is about at the level of the second story of other rooms. Note that the entrance to room 2 (far right) is above the retaining wall that was built to elevate the foundation for rooms 2 and 3.


Mesa Verde Spruce Tree House Tower Detail X9784
(432 KB)

A view across the low room 26 wall to tower rooms 27 & 28. Note the beams which Fewkes installed to brace the structure. There is a partial balcony remaining to the right of the tower and a filled-in doorway above the balcony.


Mesa Verde Spruce Tree House
Kiva Detail X9790
(361 KB)

Kiva G, the most well-preserved Kiva, has a solid stone floor. Note the pilasters above the bench (banquette), which were used to support the cribbed timbers for the roof. This was one of the most important Kivas in the complex, located in front of the round ceremonial room out of frame at the left.


Mesa Verde Spruce Tree House
Right Kiva Detail X9805
(427 KB)

Kiva H, the largest Kiva, is oval rather than circular. This Kiva was filled with debris from the collapse of the wall above (room 62, image X9785 above). Kiva H completely fills the plaza, which was likely used for ceremonial dances,  and it is completely enclosed by the walls of the rooms surrounding it.


Mesa Verde Spruce Tree House
Restored Kiva X9799
(313 KB)

Jesse Walter Fewkes rebuilt Kiva C based upon the style of the Kivas at Square Tower House. In this image, you can see the deflector behind the ladder, used to shield the firepit from air entering the Kiva from the ventilator shaft.


Mesa Verde Spruce Tree House
Restored Kiva X9804
(272 KB)

Note the cribbed timbers supporting the roof, which are in turn supported by the pilasters which stand atop the banquette (bench). Ceremonial paraphernalia stood in the openings.


Mesa Verde Spruce Tree House Restored Kiva X9802
(400 KB)

This long exposure (10 seconds) shows the wall niche below the pilaster, and the typical structure
of both outer and inner walls (note the wall behind the openings between the pilasters). The outer
wall braces the pilasters on the outer side. The floor of this Kiva is plastered and covered with a
thin layer of dirt. Some Mesa Verde Kivas have floors of solid stone. In the floor of the Kiva is a
firepit, shielded from air entering the ventilation shaft by the deflector seen in the image above.
On the other side of the firepit from the deflector is a shallow hole called a sipapu, which is a
symbolic entrance into the spirit world about the fist sized and one foot deep. Most Kivas
have a single sipapu, but occasionally there is a Kiva found which has two sipapus.

The niches typically contained paint and small ceremonial objects. Some Kivas had
openings that led to passageways into rooms beyond (e.g. Kiva E and room 35).
All Kivas had a smoke hole in the roof which doubled as the entrance and exit
and were accessed via ladders. All Kivas had ventilation openings near the
floor leading to a shaft which turned upwards, or if the Kiva was near a front
 wall such as Kivas C and D, the ventilation shaft led to an opening in the wall.


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