Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Cliff Palace is a large, impressive ruin built into an alcove in a sandstone cliff. The alcove is 89 feet deep and 59 feet high. The structure is 288 feet long. There are about 150 rooms in the structure, although only 25 - 30 of those rooms had hearths, which would indicate that the room was used as living space. Although many of the remaining rooms were storage rooms, Cliff Palace incorporates many open areas and rooms whose function is not understood. In the upper level of the alcove there are 9 storage rooms, which were built high, away from moisture and pests, and in which the surplus harvest could be stored. These storage rooms were reached by removable ladders. Based on the number of rooms with hearths, it is estimated that Cliff Palace was home to between 100 and 120 people.
There are several multi-story square and round structures called towers. These towers contain some of the finest masonry in the ruin. The interior of a four-story tower at the south end of the complex contains some original plaster on which some abstract designs were painted.
Cliff Palace contains 23 kivas, round sunken rooms of ceremonial importance. One kiva, in the center of the ruin is at point where the entire structure is partitioned by a series walls with no doorways or other access portals. The walls of this kiva were plastered with one color on one side and a different color on the opposing side. Archaeologists believe that the Cliff Palace was contained two communities and this kiva was used to integrate the two communities.
Tree ring dating indicates that construction and refurbishing of Cliff Palace was continuous from c. AD 1190 through c. 1260, although the major portion of the building was done within a twenty year time span. For unknown reasons, Cliff Palace was abandoned by 1300.
In December, 1888, Richard Wetherill and Charlie Mason, two cowboys from Mancos found Cliff Palace. (It was Wetherill that gave the ruin its current name). Wetherill and Mason guided many people to the site, including Frederick Chapin, for whom Chapin Mesa was named, and Gustaf Nordenskiold, a Swedish scientist who explored many of the ruins in the Mesa Verde area. Over the next decade Cliff Palace became a tourist attraction. Many of these early tourists carried away artifacts, camped in, and damaged the ruins. In 1906 Mesa Verde was made a national park. Cliff palace is currently only open to the public through ranger guided tours.
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