Although the accident of the road brings the traveller first to the mesa-top pueblos of the Mummy Lake district, historical sequence suggests that examination begin with the cliff-dwellings.
Of the many examples of these remains in the park, Cliff Palace, Spruce Tree House, and Balcony House are the most important because they concisely and completely cover the range of life and the fulness of development. This is not the place for detailed descriptions of these ruins. The special publications of the National Park Service and particularly the writings of Doctor J. Walter Fewkes of the Smithsonian Institution, who has devoted many years of brilliant investigation to American prehistoric remains, are obtainable from government sources. Here we shall briefly consider several types.
It is impossible, without reference to photographs, to convey a concise adequate idea of Cliff Palace. Seen from across its canyon the splendid crescent-shaped ruin offers to the unaccustomed eye little that is common to modern architecture. Prominently in the foreground, large circular wells at once challenge interest. These were the kivas, or ceremonial rooms of the community, centres of the religious activities which counted so importantly in pueblo life. Here it was that men gathered monthly to worship their gods. In the floors of some kivas are small holes representing symbolically the entrance to the underworld, and around these from time to time priests doubtless per-formed archaic ceremonies and communicated with the dead. Each family or clan in the community is supposed to have had its own kiva.
The kiva walls of Cliff Palace show some of the finest prehistoric masonry in America. All are subterranean, which in a few instances necessitated excavation in floors of solid rock. The roofs were supported by pedestals rising from mural banquettes, usually six pedestals to a kiva; the kiva supposed to have belonged to the chief’s clan had eight pedestals, and one, perhaps belonging to a clan of lesser prominence, had only two. Several kivas which lack roof supports may have been of different type or used for lesser ceremonials. All except these have fireplaces and ventilators. Entrance was by ladder from the roof.
Other rooms identified are living-rooms, storage-rooms, milling-rooms, and round and square towers, besides which there are dark rooms of unknown use and several round rooms which are neither kivas nor towers. Several of the living-rooms have raised benches evidently used for beds, and in one of them pegs for holding clothing still remain in the walls. The rooms are smoothly plastered or painted.
Mills for grinding corn were found in one room in rows; in others, singly. The work was done by women, who rubbed the upper stone against the lower by hand. The rests for their feet while at work still remain in place; also the brushes for sweeping up the meal. The small storage-rooms had stone doors, care-fully sealed with clay to keep out mice and prevent moisture from spoiling the corn and meal.
One of the most striking buildings in Cliff Palace is the Round Tower, two stories high, which not only was an observatory, as is indicated by its peep-holes, but also served purposes in religious festivals. Its masonry belongs to the finest north of Mexico. The stones are beautifully fitted and dressed. The Square Tower which stands at the southern end of the village is four stories high, reaching the roof of the cave. The inner walls of its third story are elaborately painted with red and white symbols, triangles, zigzags, and parallels, the significance of which is not known.
The ledge under which Cliff Palace is built forms a roof that overhangs the structure. An entrance, probably the principal one, came from below to a court at a lower level than the floor, from which access was by ladder.
Spruce Tree House, which may have been built after Cliff Palace, has a circular room with windows which were originally supposed to have been port-holes for defense. Doctor Fewkes, however, suggests a more probable purpose, as the position of the room does not specially suggest a fortress. Through the openings in this room the sun-priest may have watched the setting sun to determine the time for ceremonies. The room was entered from above, like a kiva. An-other room, differing from any in other cliff-dwellings, has been named the Warriors’ Room because, unlike sleeping-rooms, its bench surrounds three sides, and because, unlike any other room, it is built above a kiva. Only the exigencies of defense, it is supposed, would warrant so marked a departure from the pre-scribed religious form of room.
Balcony House has special interest, apart from its commanding location, perfection of workmanship and unusual beauty, and because of the ingenuity of the defenses of its only possible entrance. At the top of a steep trail a cave-like passage between rocks is walled so as to leave a door capable of admitting only one at a time, behind which two or three men could strike down, one by one, an attacking army.
Out of these simple architectural elements, together with the utensils and weapons found in the ruins, the imagination readily constructs a picture of the austere, laborious, highly religious, and doubtless happy lives led by the earnest people who built these ancient dwellings in the caves.
When all the neighborhood caves were filled to overflowing with increasing population, and generations of peace had wrought a confidence which had not existed when the pioneers had sought safety in caves, these people ventured to move out of cliffs and to build upon the tops of the mesa. Whether all the cave-dwellers were descended from the original pilgrims or whether others had joined them afterward is not known, but it seems evident that the separate communities had found some common bond, probably tribal, and perhaps evolved some common government. No doubt they intermarried. No doubt the blood of many cliff-dwelling communities mingled in the new communities which built pueblos upon the mesa. In time there were many of these pueblos, and they were widely scattered; there are mounds at intervals all over the Mesa Verde. The largest group of pueblos, one infers from the number of visible mounds, was built upon the Chapin Mesa several miles north of the above-mentioned cliff-dwelling near a reservoir known to-day as Mummy Lake. It is there, then, that we shall now go in continuation of our story.
Mummy Lake is not a lake and no mummies were ever found there. This old-time designation applies to an artificial depression surrounded by a low rude stone wall, much crumbled, which was evidently a storage reservoir for an irrigation system of some size. A number of conspicuous mounds in the neighborhood suggest the former existence of a village of pueblos dependent upon the farms for which the irrigation system had been built. One of these, from which a few stones protruded, was excavated in 1916 by Doctor Fewkes, and has added a new and important chapter to the history of this people. This pueblo has been named Far View House. Its extensive vista includes four other groups of similar mounds. Each cluster occurs in the fertile sage-brush clearings which bloom in summer with asters and Indian paint-brush; there is no doubt that good crops of Indian corn could still be raised from these sands to-day by dry-farming methods.
Far View House is a pueblo, a hundred and thirteen feet long by more than fifty feet wide, not including a full-length plaza about thirty-five feet wide in which religious dances are supposed to have taken place. The differences between this fine structure and the cliff-cities are considerable. The most significant evidence of progress, perhaps, is the modern regularity of the ground-plan. The partitions separating the secular rooms are continuous through the building, and the angles are generally accurately right angles.
The pueblo had three stories. It is oriented approximately to the cardinal points and was terraced southward to secure a sunny exposure. The study of the solar movements became an advanced science with these people in the latter stages of their development. It must be remembered that they had no compasses; knowing nothing of the north or any other fixed point, nevertheless there is evidence that they successfully worked out the solstices and planned their later buildings accurately according to cardinal points of their own calculation.
Another difference indicating development is the decrease in the number of kivas, and the construction of a single very large kiva in the middle of the building. Its size suggests at once that the individual clan organization of cliff-dwelling days had here given place to a single priestly fraternity, sociologically a marked advance. Drawing parallels with the better-khown customs of other primitive people, we are at liberty,’ if we please, to infer similar progress in other directions. The original primitive communism was developing naturally, though doubtless very slowly, into something akin to organized society, probably involving more complicated economic relationships in all departments of living.
While their masonry did not apparently improve in proportion, Far View House shows increase in the number and variety of the decorative figures incised on hewn stones. The spiral, representing the coiled serpent, appears a number of times, as do many combinations of squares, curves, and angles arranged in fanciful design, which may or may not have had symbolic meanings.
A careful examination of the neighborhood discloses few details of the irrigation system, but it shows a cemetery near the southeast corner of the building in which the dead were systematically buried.
Large numbers of minor antiquities were found in this interesting structure. Besides the usual stone implements of the mason and the housekeeper, many instruments of bone, such as needles, dirks, and bodkins, were found. Figurines of several kinds were unearthed, carved from soft stone, including several in-tended to symbolize Indian corn; all these may have been idols. Fragments of pottery were abundant, in full variety of form, decoration, and color, but always the most ancient types. Among the bones of animals, the frequency of those of rabbits, deer, antelope, elk, and mountain-sheep indicate that meat formed no in-considerable part of the diet. Fabrics and embroideries were not discovered, as in the cliff-dwellings, but they may have disappeared in the centuries through exposure to the elements.
Far View House may not show the highest development of the Mummy Lake cluster of pueblos, and further exhumations here and in neighboring groups may throw further light upon this interesting people in their gropings from darkness to light. Meantime, however, returning to the neighborhood of the cliff-dwellings, let us examine a structure so late in the history of these people that they left it unfinished.
Sun Temple stands on a point of Chapin Mesa, somewhat back from the edge of Cliff Canyon, commanding an extraordinary range of country. It is within full view of Cliff Palace and other cliff-dwellings of importance and easy of access. From it, one can look southward to the Mancos River. On every side a wide range of mesa and canyon lies in full view. The site is unrivalled for a temple in which all could worship with devotion.
When Doctor Fewkes, in the early summer of 1915, attacked the mound which had been designated Community House under the supposition that it covered a ruined pueblo, he had no idea of the extraordinary nature of the find awaiting him, although he was pre-pared from its shape and other indications for some-thing out of the usual. So wholly without parallel was the disclosure, however, that it was not till it was entirely uncovered that he ventured a public conjecture as to its significance. The ground-plan of Sun Temple is shaped like the letter D. It encloses another D-shaped structure occupying nearly two-thirds of its total area, within which are two large kivas. Between the outer and the inner D are passages and rooms, and at one end a third kiva is surrounded by rooms, one of which is circular.
Sun Temple is also impressive in size. It is a hundred and twenty-one feet long and sixty-four feet wide. Its walls average four feet in thickness, and are double-faced, enclosing a central core of rubble; they are built of the neighborhood sandstone. The masonry is of fine quality. This, together with its symmetrical architectural design, its fine proportions, and its many decorated stones, mark it the highest type of Mesa Verde architecture.
It was plainly unfinished. Walls had risen in some places higher than in others. As yet there was no roofing. No rooms had been plastered. Of internal finishing little was completed, and of contents, of course, there was none. The stone hammers and other utensils of the builders were found lying about as if thrown down at day’s close.
The kivas, although circular, are unlike those of Cliff Palace, inasmuch as they are above ground, not subterranean. The mortar used in pointing shows the impress of human hands; no trowels were used. The walls exhibit many stones incised with complicated designs, largely geometric; some may be mason’s marks; others are decorative or symbolic. These de-signs indicate a marked advance over those in Far View House; in fact they are far more complicated and artistic than any in the southwest.
Bare and ineloquent though its unfinished condition left it, the religious purposes of the entire building are clear to the archaeologist in its form. And, as if to make conjecture certainty, a shrine was uncovered on the corner-stone of the outer wall which frames in solid stone walls a large fossil palm-leaf whose rays strongly suggest the sun !
It requires no imagination to picture the effect which the original discovery of this image of their god must have had upon a primitive community of sun-worshippers. It must have seemed to them a divine gift, a promise, like the Ark of the Covenant, of the favor of the Almighty. It may even have first suggested the idea of building this temple to their deity.
This is all the story. Go there and study it in detail. Enlightened, profoundly impressed, nevertheless you will finish at this point. The tale has no climax. It just stops.
What happened to the people of the Mesa Verde?
Some archeologists believe that they emigrated to neighboring valleys southwest. But why should they have left their prosperous farms and fine homes for regions which seem to us less desirable ? And why, a profoundly religious people, should they have left Sun Temple unfinished ?
What other supposition remains?
Only, I think, that, perhaps because of their prosperity and the unpreparedness that accompanies long periods of peace, they were suddenly overwhelmed by enemies.