Puye Cliff Dwellings
Backstory and Context
The Puye Cliffs complex, constructed and used by the Pueblo Indians Between 900 and 1580, is the largest complex on the Pajarito Plateau, which includes two levels of cliff-dwellings consisting of surface and cave dwellings. Of the two levels of cliff dwellings, the mesa top and reconstructed 'Community House' is accessed by paths and about twelve stairways and ladders that are cut into the side of the cliff. One level of cliff dwellings is over 1 mile long and the second is about 2,100 feet long.
The Dwellings were made of soft volcanic tuff that was soft enough for the Pueblo people to carve out the cliff side with only wooden tools and their hands. Combined, the cliff dwellings held over 700 rooms at the base of the cliff, and the top of the mesa there was cave dwellings from which a Multistoried Puebloan village was built. The lower level had 173 rooms, including a large plaza at its center. The true number of rooms was never known because of decay of the upper and extended levels.
Close to 1600, drought forced the native villagers to leave the locations near the Rio Grande Valley. Inhabitants today, of Santa Clara Pueblo, are descendants of the Puye. The American Indians living in the pueblo in northern New Mexico traditionally speak the Tewa language, which translates "Puye," as "Pueblo ruin where the rabbits assemble meet." In 1907, Edgar Hewitt with the Southwest Society of the Archaeological Institute of America, excavated the Puye Cliff Dwellings, making it the first systematic excavation of a prehistoric pueblo in Rio Grande Valley.