Antiquities of the Mesa Verde National Park : Cliff Palace


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The exterior of one or two rooms shows several coats of plaster, and different parts of the same walls are of different colors. Indistinct figures are scratched on several walls, but the majority of these are too obscure to be traced or deciphered. The plastering on the exterior and the interior of the same wall is often of different color. Figures are painted on the white plastering of the third story of room 11 and on the lower border of the banquette of kiva I, the former being the most elaborate mural paintings known in cliff-dwellings, showing several symbols which are reproduced on pottery.

Antiquities of the Mesa Verde National Park: Cliff Palace

A reversed symbolic rain-cloud figure, painted white, occurs on the exterior of the low ledge house. The latter figures were intended to represent animals, heads of grotesque beings, possibly birds, and terraced designs symbolic of rain clouds. As one or more of these symbols occur on pottery fragments, there appears no doubt that both were made by the same people. Among rock markings may also be mentioned shallow, concave grooves made by rubbing harder stones, which can be seen on the cliffs in front of rooms 92 and 93 and in the court west of room Among the figures painted on whitewashed walls of room 11 may be mentioned triangles, parallel red lines with dots, and a square figure, in red, crossed by zigzags, recalling the designs on old Navaho blankets.

The parallel lines are placed vertically and are not unlike, save in color, those which the Hopi make with prayer meal on the walls of their kivas, in certain ceremonies. But it is to be noted that the Hopi markings are made horizontally instead of vertically, as at Cliff Palace. The dots represented on the sides of some of these parallel lines room 11 are similar to those appearing on straight lines or triangles in the decoration of Mesa Verde pottery. The triangular figures still used by the Hopi in decorating the margins of dados in their houses also occur on some of the Cliff-Palace walls, but are placed in a reversed position.

They are said to represent a butterfly, a rain cloud, or a sex symbol. It is interesting to note in passing that two or more triangles placed one above another appear constantly in the same position in Moorish tile and stucco decorations, but this, of course, is only a coincidence, as there is no evidence of a cultural connection. Almost every Mesa Verde cliff-dwelling has an unoccupied space back of the rooms, [28] as in the rear of rooms 28 to 40, which served as a depository for all kinds of rubbish.

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Here the inhabitants of Cliff Palace also deposited certain of their dead, which became mummified on account of the dryness of the air in the cave. There is also a vacant space between the rear of the Speaker-chief's House and the cave wall, but this space was almost entirely free of refuse. It had all been dug over by relic seekers who are said to have found many specimens therein. The majority of the rooms in Cliff Palace were devoted to secular purposes. These are of several types, and differ in form, in position, and in function.

Their form is either circular or rectangular, or some modification of these two. As a rule, the secular rooms lie deep under the cliffs, several extending as far back as the rear of the cave.

Antiquities of the Mesa Verde National Park: Cliff Palace

The front of Cliff Palace shows at least two tiers or terraces of secular rooms, the roof of the lower one being level with that of the floor of the tier above. The front walls of secular rooms lower than the fourth terrace are as a rule destroyed, but the lateral walls are evident, especially in the tower quarter.

The passage from one of these terraces to the room above was made by means of ladders or by stone steps along the corners. The following classification of secular rooms, based on their function, may be noted: 1 Living rooms; 2 milling rooms; 3 storage rooms; 4 rooms of unknown function; [30] 5 towers; 6 round rooms. It is difficult to distinguish in some instances to which of the above classes some of the rooms belong.

Antiquities of the Mesa Verde National Park: Cliff Palace

The secular houses were probably owned by the oldest women of the clan, and the kivas were the property of the men of their respective clans, but courts, plazas, and passageways were common property. The masonry [31] of all secular rooms is practically identical and as a rule is inferior to that of kivas, their walls varying in width and having a uniform thickness from foundation to top. There are instances where the lower part projects somewhat beyond the upper, from which it is separated by a ledge, but this feature is not common.

Minor features of architecture, as floors and roofs, doors and windows, fireplaces, banks, and cubby-holes, some or all of which may be absent, vary in form and in distribution according to the purpose for which the room was intended. The few timbers that remain show that the beams of the houses were probably cut with stone hatchets aided by the use of fire. The labor of hauling these timbers and of stripping them of their branches must have been great, considering the rude appliances at hand.

It would seem that the cliff-dwellers were not ignorant of the use of the wedge with which to split logs, since the surfaces of split sticks are always more or less fibrous, never smooth, as would be expected if metal implements had been used. All transportation was manual, without the assistance of beasts of burden or of any but the rudest mechanical contrivances. There is difficulty in distinguishing doorways from windows in cliff-dwellings, on which account they are here treated together. Both are simple openings in the walls, the former as a rule being larger than the latter.

As door openings are regularly situated high above the floor, there may have been ladders by which the doorways of the second and third stories were reached. The rooms may have been entered by means of balconies, evidences of which still remain. No instance of a hatchway in the roof is now recognizable, although the absence of side entrances in several rooms implies that there were roof entrances, several good examples of which occur at Spruce-tree House.

Mesa Verde National Park Cliff Dwellings: The Beauty, The History, The Significance

Doorways of Cliff Palace have two forms, rectangular and T -shaped, the latter generally opening on the second story or in such a position that they were approached by ladders or notched logs. The theory that these doorways were constructed larger at the top than at the bottom so that persons with packs on their backs might pass through them more readily is not wholly satisfactory, nor does the theory that the notch at the lower rim served to keep the ladder from slipping wholly commend itself.

No satisfactory explanation of the form of the T -shaped doorway has been yet determined. Generally the tops of both doorways and windows are narrower than the bottoms, the sides being slightly inclined; but the lower part is rarely narrower than the top. Sills sometimes project slightly, and evidences occur that the sides as well as the upper part of the window and doorway were made of adobe, now no longer in place.

The jambs also were probably of clay, and the doors, made of slabs of stone, neatly fitted the orifices. The prevailing storms in winter at Cliff Palace sweep up the canyon from the southwest, but there does not seem to have been a systematic effort to avoid the cold by placing doors and windows on the opposite side of the building; the openings, for instance, of the Speaker-chief's House face this direction and are open to storms of snow and rain. Many of the openings never had doors and windows, but were probably closed with sticks tied together, or with matting [32].

Certain windows were half closed, probably to temper the winter blasts. The sills of doors were commonly placed a foot or more above the floor [33] ; transoms above the door opening and peepholes at the side are not common in Cliff Palace. In some cases a stepping-stone projects from the wall below the door opening to facilitate entrance; in others a foot hole is found in the same relative place. As the jambs, sills, and lintels were built hard and fast in the mortar, evidently both door openings and windows were constructed when the corresponding wall was built.

The jambs in some instances and the lintels in others are of split sticks, the surfaces of which are fibrous and were evidently not split by means of iron implements. There is evidence that the size of the door openings was sometimes reduced by a ridge of mortar which was arched above, as at Spruce-tree House, the intention being to make in this way a jamb to hold in place the stone door. There are no round windows of large size, but both doors and windows are quadrilateral in shape; the small circular openings in some of the walls may have served for lookouts.

Not a single entire roof remained in Cliff Palace, and only one or two rooms retained remnants of rafters. It would seem, however, from the position of the holes in the walls into which the rafters once extended that they were constructed like those of Spruce-tree House, a good example of which is shown in plate 9 of the report on that ruin.


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The floors seem to have been formed of clay hardened by tramping, but there is no evidence of paving with flat stones. The hardened adobe is sometimes laid on sticks without bark and stamped down.

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Although no instance of extensive rock cutting of the floor was observed in secular rooms, this is a common feature of kiva floors. Floors were generally level, but in some instances, when rock was encountered, the surface was raised in part above the other level. The majority of the floors had been dug into for buried specimens before the repair work was begun, but here and there fragments of floors were still intact, showing their former level.

Banquettes or ledges around the walls are rare. In a few instances the unplastered roof of the cave served as the roof of the highest rooms. Many fireplaces still remain in rooms, but the majority are found in convenient corners of the plazas [34]. The most common situation is in an angle formed by two walls; in which case the fire-pit is generally rimmed with a slightly elevated rounded ridge of adobe.

In room 84 there is a fireplace in the middle of the floor. At one side of this depression there extends a supplementary groove in the floor, rimmed with stone, the use of which is not known.

Although fireplaces are ordinarily half round, a square one occurs in the northwestern corner of room All the fireplaces contained wood ashes, sometimes packed hard; but no cinders, large fragments of charcoal, or coal ashes were evident. The sides of the walls above the fireplaces are generally blackened with smoke.

The fire-holes of the kivas, being specially constructed, are different in shape from those in secular houses.

Antiquities of the Mesa Verde National Park : Cliff Palace Antiquities of the Mesa Verde National Park : Cliff Palace
Antiquities of the Mesa Verde National Park : Cliff Palace Antiquities of the Mesa Verde National Park : Cliff Palace
Antiquities of the Mesa Verde National Park : Cliff Palace Antiquities of the Mesa Verde National Park : Cliff Palace
Antiquities of the Mesa Verde National Park : Cliff Palace Antiquities of the Mesa Verde National Park : Cliff Palace
Antiquities of the Mesa Verde National Park : Cliff Palace Antiquities of the Mesa Verde National Park : Cliff Palace
Antiquities of the Mesa Verde National Park : Cliff Palace Antiquities of the Mesa Verde National Park : Cliff Palace
Antiquities of the Mesa Verde National Park : Cliff Palace Antiquities of the Mesa Verde National Park : Cliff Palace
Antiquities of the Mesa Verde National Park : Cliff Palace Antiquities of the Mesa Verde National Park : Cliff Palace

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