Why did people leave the Mesa Verde region? It wasn't just the drought.
We share more in common with the Ancestral Pueblo people than you might think. Remarkably, today about the same number of people live around the Mesa Verde region that lived here 1,000 years ago. And the climate was changing rapidly back then, too. It was getting cooler and drier on the Colorado Plateau, which presented challenges to farmers, just as the warming climate does today.
From about 650 to 1280 — more than 600 years — the Ancestral Pueblo people occupied the Mesa Verde region, a large, diverse geographic area that extends through southwest Colorado, northwest New Mexico, southeast Utah and northeast Arizona. Then they migrated south to the Rio Grande Valley and the Mesas of Northern Arizona, where their descendants live today.
For decades, archaeologists have tried to explain why. For a long time, the answer they came up with was primarily an environmental one. The migration coincided with a deep and punishing drought, which seemed to present an obvious explanation: It simply became too hard to live and farm in the Mesa Verde Region.
Now, though, a number of researchers believe the story is much more complicated. The drought almost certainly was a factor in the decision to leave, but it was far from the only thing making life difficult at the time.
As we hear from archaeologist Donna Glowacki in Moving On, this was also a period of significant social, religious and political change.