cliff dwellers, Ancestral Pueblo people, sometimes called Anasazi, who were builders of the ancient cliff dwellings found in the canyons and on the mesas of the U.S. Southwest, principally on the tributaries of the Rio Grande and the Colorado River in New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado. It was once thought that these ruins were the work of an extinct aboriginal people, but it has been established that they were built (11th–14th cent.) by the ancestors of the present Pueblo. The dwellings were large communal habitations built on ledges in the canyon walls and on the flat tops of the mesas. Access to the cliffs was very difficult and thus highly defensible against nomadic predatory tribes such as the Navajo. The cliff dwellers were sedentary agriculturists who planted crops in the river valleys below their high-perched houses. They were experts at irrigating the fields. Their lives were organized on a communal pattern, and the many kivas (see kiva) show that their religious ceremonies were like those of the Pueblo today. Many of the dwellings are now in national parks. Some of the better-known ones are those of the Mesa Verde National Park, in Colorado, where there are more than 300 dwellings; Canyons of the Ancients and Yucca House national monuments, also in Colorado; Hovenweep National Monument, in Utah; Bandelier and Gila Cliff Dwellings national monuments, in New Mexico; and Canyon de Chelly, Casa Grande Ruins, Montezuma Castle, and Wupatki national monuments, in Arizona.
See W. Current, Pueblo Architecture of the Southwest (1971).