Standing on the Mesa Verde plateau in southwest Colorado at a height of more than 2,600 m is this concentration of ancestral Pueblo Indian dwellings. Their originality derives in part from the unique local topography of mesas,or table lands, intersected by deep canyons, that dictated their construction. The dwellings were also designed to cope with the challenging local climate: a semi-arid environment with irregular rainfall and extremes of temperature between day and night.

The dwellings were built by the Anasazi Indians, ancestors of the Pueblos, between the sixth and twelfth centuries, and the earliest habitations are found largely on the plateau. Later, villages grew in and around the cave-studded sides of the cuestas where erosion had left protective overhanging cliffs. Some of these imposing stone-built cliff dwellings comprise more than 100 rooms. In all, some 4,400 sites have been recorded.

The clifF-side villages had specific functions: agricultural, handicraft and religious. The Anasazi developed irrigation techniques to cultivate the cereal crops that were central to their diet. At their civilisation’s high point, they produced high-quality ceramics, weaving and wickerwork made from yucca fibre.