December 18, 1888: Richard Wetherill and Charlie Mason set out to find some missing cattle. Wetherill was part of a ranching family in Colorado as well as an amateur explorer. On this day, while out looking for some cattle, he and his partner found Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde. Little is known of the peoples who built and lived there as they disappeared around 1300 without leaving a trace. The term Wetherill used to name the people who had built the place came from the Navajo for ancient enemies. That is why they were called the Anasazi. While atop an adjacent mesa, the duo looked down into a valley and noticed the city carved into the native rock.
Tree ring dating gives the time of construction and habitation from about 1190 AD to 1260 AD with most of the building taking place during a twenty year period. The Ancestral Pueblo were thought to have built the cliff dwellings as a defensible position against their encroaching enemies or possibly due to climactic changes in the region. It was completely abandoned by 1300 and the reasons for that are disputed. It is thought that possible megadroughts caused such a drop in food production that the people needed to leave their safely built city.
The dwellings are built from sandstone, mortar, and wooden beams. The sandstone was shaped by using harder rocks as tools while the mortar was made from soil, water, and ash which held everything together. Smaller stones were often placed inside the mortar in order to level out or shore up construction. The walls were decorated with colored earthen plaster but it faded over time. The size of the doorways was a mystery but the average height of a man at that time was about 5’6” and women were about 5’ tall. There are 23 round sunken rooms which seem to be of ceremonial importance and 150 other rooms at Cliff Palace. It is thought about 100 people lived there.
Wetherill and his family (fathers and brothers) not only named the people who lived there, but they “excavated” the area extensively. The family and their friends and neighbors came to the site and dug around, knocking down walls and roofs. They also gathered many of the artifacts remaining at Cliff Palace. The Wetherill family did donate some of these artifacts to the Historical Society of Colorado but they kept the majority of their finds for themselves. Frederick H Chapin, a photographer and friend of the Wetherills was included in exploration and he was able to produce pictures and eventually wrote a book about the exciting archeological find in the middle of the desert. Wetherill went on to discover the Kiet Seel ruin which is today included in the Navajo National Monument.
Look for light
Listen for inspiration on the wind
Let water cleanse your soul
Set yourself on a firm foundation
Serve as the plants
Do not offend your fellow creatures
Live in harmony with all creations. – all from the Anasazi Foundation
Also on this day: The Grinch – In 1966, the Dr. Seuss tale came to television for the first time.
Ancient Pueblo Housing – In 1888, Cliff Palace was discovered.
Nuke Power – In 1957, the first nuclear power plant in the US began producing power.
NFL Playoff – In 1932, the Chicago Bears beat the Portsmouth Spartans.
Land of Sweets – In 1892, The Nutcracker was first performed.