Mesa Verde National Park was designated a World Heritage Site in 1978 – one of the first World Heritage locations in the United States. The exceptional archeological sites of the Mesa Verde landscape provide eloquent testimony to the ancient cultural traditions of Native American tribes. They represent a graphic link between the past and present ways of life of the Pueblo Peoples of the American Southwest.
World Heritage, as defined by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), …is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritage are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration. The World Heritage Convention, established in 1972, is the most widely accepted international conservation treaty in human history. Essentially, it is the American national park idea being carried out worldwide.
Today, Mesa Verde is one of 23 World Heritage Sites within the United States. These designations do not affect how Mesa Verde or other World Heritage sites are managed—the United States retains full jurisdiction over these sites and any related management decisions. In fact, the United States helped initiate the idea of World Heritage. In 1965, the White House conference (a national meeting held to discuss an issue or topic of importance to the American public), called for a "World Heritage Trust" to preserve "the world's superb natural and scenic areas and historic sites for the present and the future of the entire world citizenry.”
Mesa Verde, Spanish for "green table," offers an unparalleled opportunity to see and experience a unique cultural and physical landscape. The architecture preserved at Mesa Verde reflects more than 700 years of human history. From about CE (Common Era) 600 through 1300, people lived and flourished in communities throughout the area, eventually building elaborate stone villages nestled in the sheltered alcoves of the canyon walls. Today most people call these sheltered villages "cliff dwellings." The cliff dwellings represent the last 75 to 100 years of occupation at Mesa Verde. In the late 1200s, the Ancestral Pueblo people began leaving their homes and migrating south. Today, their descendants -- the Hopi, Zuni, Acoma, and other Rio Grande Pueblo people -- live in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.
The archeological sites found in Mesa Verde are some of the most notable and best preserved in the United States. Established as a national park in 1906 and administered by the National Park Service, Mesa Verde was added to the list of World Heritage Sites on September 8, 1978 as one of the first seven selected for cultural recognition. Nearly 5,000 archeological sites have been located on the mesa tops, cliffs, and canyons. At least 600 of these are cliff dwellings.
Ever since local cowboys re-discovered the cliff dwellings over a century ago, archeologists have been trying to understand the life of the Ancestral Pueblo people. But despite decades of excavation, analysis, classification, and comparison our knowledge is still hazy. We will never know the whole story of their existence, for they left no written records, and much that was important in their lives has perished. Yet for all their silence, these sites speak with certain eloquence. They tell of a people adept at building, artistic in their crafts, and skillful at wresting a living from a difficult land. They are evidence of a society that over the centuries accumulated skills and traditions and passed them on from one generation to another. By the time they were building and occupying today’s world famous cliff dwellings (CE 1100 to 1300), the people of Mesa Verde were the heirs of a dynamic civilization, with accomplishments in community living and the arts that rank among the finest expressions of human culture in ancient America.
Last updated: January 18, 2020