Touring the ancient mesa top pueblo villages can provide insight into an important transitional period in Mesa Verde Culture history. On top of Chapin Mesa is where many of the earliest dwellings can be found. In this area, the transition from digging earthen huts to building complex stone block masonry structures can clearly be seen, because these ancient sacred places have been remarkably well preserved. In this area there are a variety of ancient earthen pithouses that were unearthed in their entirety and they look as they did when they were first abandoned. The excavated pithouses are now protected by tin building canopies, so they will be there for many future generations. Seeing a complete ancient pithouse is a rare sight indeed, so checking out these exhibits is a must to do when touring Mesa Verde National Park!
The sign that simply says "Pithouse" marks the short trail to this landmark. Just like the sign infers, this structure is a classic early style shallow pithouse, complete with a sunken floor with holes in the perimeter for timber roof poles. In this early design, there is a stone hearth at one end of the main room, instead of an earthen furnace dug into the ground at the edge of the pit. Pithouses like this one were an efficient utilitarian design and a good example of a functional pithouse can be experienced at the Salmon Ruins Tribal Park just across the border in New Mexico.
What makes this particular pithouse so important is this actually is one of the earliest structures built on Chapin Mesa. The pithouse was constructed by the Basket Weaver Culture during a period of time when Mesa Verde agricultural systems were first starting to flourish. The Basket Weavers predated the Pueblo Culture stone masonry builders by a few hundred years and during the transitional period a few pithouse-pueblo combination designs were built. These early age transitional structures have also been preserved at Mesa Verde and hours can be spent pondering over the significance while there.
Mesa Verde definitely is the place to view the real cultural history of America, which actually dates back well over 20 millennia back in time. Where the Mesa Verde Basket Weavers and Pueblo People came from is still a bit of a mystery and assuming that they all strolled over to the Americas on an ice age land bridge is not good to do, especially since there is evidence of a global seagoing cultures way back in ancient times. It is said that migrations from Cusco, Peru are what brought hybridized maize to this region, which is something else to ponder over. All that can be said is the Pithouse is a prime example of the agricultural beginnings, which eventually became the foundation for the Mesa Verde great house cliff dwelling society. For this reason, Pithouse is simply a must to experience!
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