Adobe with plant impressions.


Clay mixed with water and small pieces of plant material. In pueblos, adobe is usually used to plaster walls, roofs, and sometimes floors. When adobe dries, it forms a hard surface that helps keep the inside of the house warm and dry.

These photographs show two chunks of adobe from ancient Pueblo houses. You can still see the impressions of branches and twigs that were used to build the walls or roofs.


A recessed area in a stone cliff.

Alcoves provide natural shelter from the weather. In the past, people sometimes built their homes in alcoves. A pueblo built inside an alcove is called a "cliff dwelling."

Alcove without an archaeological site.

Alcove without an archaeological site.

Alcove with an archaeological site (cliff dwelling).

Alcove with an archaeological site (cliff dwelling).


"Person who came before."

A person in your family who came a generation or more before you. Your ancestors are your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc.

Basketmaker pithouse with antechamber and main chamber labeled.


Ante means "before." In Basketmaker pithouses, the antechamber was the small chamber located "before" (in front of) the main chamber.

archaeological site

A place that has evidence of people having been there in the past. The evidence might be artifacts, such as stone tools, broken pottery, or old food scraps. Other kinds of evidence include things that people built, such as house walls and fire hearths.


A specially trained person who studies past cultures.

Archaeologists do NOT study dinosaurs or other fossils. The study of fossils is called paleontology. The scientists who study fossils are called paleontologists.


The study of past cultures through scientific analysis of the things people left behind, such as their tools, food, and houses.


A building or buildings.

Archaeologists study ancient architecture to learn how building styles changed through time. Architecture also helps archaeologists estimate how many people lived at a site. In the Mesa Verde region, some architecture is very well preserved. At other sites, the walls have fallen down, and archaeologists have to reconstruct what the buildings looked like.

Example of well-preserved architecture.

Well-preserved architecture.

Example of architecture that has fallen down.

Architecture that has fallen down.


Examples of ancient and modern artifacts: broken pottery, corrugated jar, arrowheads, stone flakes, computer mouse, cap and sunglasses, and cell phone.

Something that is made and/or used by a human. Artifacts include tools, containers, and food scraps (such as animal bones and corn cobs). Artifacts also include things that are leftover when a person makes something. For example, to make a stone arrowhead (also called a "projectile point"), a person had to chip small flakes of stone off of a larger stone to get the right shape. The small flakes are artifacts that help archaeologists understand how the arrowhead was made.

Technically, artifacts also include things that people build, such as houses and fire hearths. But archaeologists usually use the word "artifact" only to describe things that can be picked up and carried away.

atlatl (pronounced ÄT-lä-tul)

A tool used to throw a spear. An atlatl allows a hunter to throw a spear with great force and accuracy. It consists of a long, narrow piece of wood with a small hook on one end and a handle on the other end. The butt end of the spear fits onto the hook of the atlatl.

Atlatl, spear, dart, and projectile point.



A group of people who trace their history to the same ancestor, which is sometimes symbolized as something found in nature. Examples include the Snake Clan and the Water Clan. A clan is bigger than a family. Clans are very important in Pueblo society today.

Cliff dwelling at Mesa Verde National Park.


cliff dwelling

A pueblo built in an alcove.


The knowledge, beliefs, customs, and language that are shared by a group of people and passed down from one generation to the next.

Pueblo I pithouse with deflector and other parts labeled.

A Pueblo I pithouse with the deflector and other parts labeled.



A stone slab or small wall inside a pithouse or kiva that kept air from the ventilation shaft (or, during the Basketmaker period, from the antechamber) from blowing directly on the fire.


"Person who came after."

A descendant is a person who traces his or her family back to a particular ancestor. You are a descendant of your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc.


This word describes plant or animal species that have come to depend on people. Domesticated is the opposite of "wild."

The Pueblo Indians of the Mesa Verde region grew domesticated corn, beans, and squash. They also had two domesticated animals: turkeys and dogs.

drought (pronounced "drowt")

A long dry period.


A person who moves from his or her homeland to live in a new area.


"Extinct" describes species that once existed but no longer do. At the end of the Ice Age, many species of animals became extinct because they could not adapt to the changes in the climate. Some scientists think that people also might have played a role in the extinctions by "over-hunting" some species.

fire hearth

A pit that held a fire. Some hearths were outlined with stones. Others were lined with adobe. During the earliest time periods, fires were made with wood. Later, after people started growing corn, they burned dried corn cobs in addition to wood.

Fire hearths were used for cooking. They also provided heat and light.

great kiva

A very large, round structure that was built partly or mostly belowground. Great kivas were not houses. Instead, they were special structures used by many people in the community for ceremonies, meetings, or other important events.


A person who gets food, clothing, and other necessities by hunting wild animals and gathering wild plants. This term is also used to describe the lifestyle of those who hunt and gather for a living.

Jacal wall.


jacal (pronounced huh-CÄL)

A technique used to build walls using wooden posts, branches, and adobe.

First, wooden posts were set in the ground. Next, small branches were woven or tied between them to support a layer of even-smaller twigs. Finally, the wall was sealed with a layer of adobe. Stone slabs sometimes supported the bottom of the wall.

kiva (pronounced KEE-vuh)

In ancient times, kivas were round structures built belowground. They usually had masonry walls. Kivas replaced pithouses during the Pueblo II period. They were used by individual families for ceremonies and also for everyday living.

A Pueblo II kiva with the various parts labeled.

A Pueblo II kiva.

In pueblos today, there are different styles of kivas. They can be round or rectangular, belowground or aboveground. Kivas are used by entire clans rather than by individual families. People no longer live in kivas, but they use them daily for ceremonies, meetings, or other events involving their clans.

This illustration shows a Pueblo II kiva with the roof intact (small drawing in the circle) and with the roof removed so you can see inside.

Example of a mano and metate.




Mano is the Spanish word for "hand." A mano is a stone that is held in one or both hands and moved back and forth against a larger stone to grind seeds, nuts, and other hard materials. The larger stone is called a metate.

Styles of manos and metates changed through time.

Masonry walls.



A type of wall construction. Masonry walls were made of blocks of stone stacked on top of one another and held in place with mortar. Usually the stone walls would be plastered over with adobe.

The photographs on the right show what masonry walls look like after the adobe plaster has worn off. The small photo is a close-up, showing mortar between the stones.


A large mammal with tusks, a long trunk, and shaggy hair. Mastodons were similar to mammoths, except for slight differences in their teeth and tusks. Like mammoths, mastodons became extinct at the end of the Ice Age.

Mesa Verde in southwestern Colorado.



Mesa is the Spanish word for "table." A mesa is a large, tall landform with steep sides and a flat top.

This is a photograph of Mesa Verde, a large mesa in southwestern Colorado.

Mesa Verde region

Mesa Verde region.

The Mesa Verde region is located in the Four Corners area of the Southwest. It is called the "Four Corners" because it is the only place in the United States where the corners of four states meet: Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. The region covers almost 10,000 square miles and is the place where Pueblo Indian culture first developed.

The region is named after Mesa Verde, a large mesa in southwestern Colorado. Part of the mesa is included in Mesa Verde National Park, which was created in 1906.

Example of a mano and metate.



metate (pronounced meh-TAH-tay)

A large stone on which grains, seeds, or nuts are placed and then ground with a mano.

Styles of manos and metates changed through time.


A soft mixture of wet clay, similar to adobe. Mortar was used in masonry walls to help hold the blocks of stone in place. See "masonry" for a photograph of mortar.


To move frequently, without having a permanent home. Hunter-gatherers are nomadic, because they are continually on the move in their search for food.

oral history

History that is passed from one generation to the next through the spoken word instead of through written records. Oral histories help preserve important information and knowledge about the past.


A Pueblo I pithouse with the various parts labeled.

A Pueblo I pithouse with the various parts labeled.

A house that is built partly or completely belowground. Pithouses are usually built mostly of earth and wood. In the Mesa Verde region, pithouses were used for everyday activities, such as corn grinding, cooking, eating, and sleeping.

This illustration shows a pithouse with the roof intact (small drawing in the circle) and with the roof removed so you can see inside.


A large, open space used for many different activities and gatherings. In ancient times, plazas were usually located between the roomblock and the pithouse (or the kiva). Plazas are still very important places in pueblos today.

projectile point

An artifact with a sharp point that was attached to the end of a spear or arrow. Projectile points attached to arrows are sometimes called arrowheads. Projectile points attached to spears are sometimes called spearheads.

Examples of projectile points dating from different time periods.

Projectile points dating from different time periods.

Projectile points can be made of a wide variety of materials, including stone, wood, shell, glass, and metal. All the ancient projectile points archaeologists find in the Mesa Verde region are made of stone.


An exact copy.


Pueblo I roomblock.

What a Pueblo I roomblock might have looked like.

An aboveground building with at least two rooms. The rooms were built side-by-side, with "shared" walls, like an apartment building. Some roomblocks were one story tall and had only a few rooms. Other roomblocks were two or more stories tall and had many rooms. Roomblocks were used for everyday living, including corn grinding, cooking, eating, storage, and sleeping.

Roomblocks are still used in pueblos today.

Pueblo I pithouse with sipapu and other parts labeled.

A Pueblo I pithouse with the sipapu and other parts labeled.

sipapu (pronounced SEE-pah-poo)

Sipapu is a Hopi word. A sipapu is a very small, round pit located north of the fire hearth in a pithouse or kiva. Sipapus are thought by some Pueblo Indians to represent the hole through which humans climbed into this world.

People started building sipapus in pithouses during the Pueblo I period. They are still found in kivas today.

Example of a pottery vessel without slip.

Example of a pottery vessel without slip.

Example of a pottery vessel with slip.

Example of a pottery vessel with slip.


A thin layer of watery clay applied to the outside of a pottery vessel. Pueblo potters slipped their white ware pottery vessels after they polished them, but before they painted them. Slip made the surface of the vessel smoother and a brighter white.

Pueblo I pithouse with smoke hole and other parts labeled.

A Pueblo I pithouse with the smoke hole, wing wall, and other parts labeled.

smoke hole

A hole in the roof of a building that allowed smoke from the fire hearth to escape to the outside. Pueblo people also used smoke holes as doorways. Ladders leaned against the smoke holes allowed people to climb in and out of the structures.

wing wall

In Basketmaker and Pueblo I pithouses, the wing wall was a low wall that separated the living space into two areas. The wall was made of stone, wood, adobe, or a combination of these materials. It was low enough that adults could step over it. (See the picture above.)