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Cracks in the Palace

Story courtesy of Deborah Sherman

A visitor might not notice the tiny cracks in the walls, the slight shift of the tower or pieces of clay falling to the ground. But chief archeologist Scott Travis notices every breach. To him and other experts, they’re clear signs that, if left untreated, the park’s crown jewel Cliff Palace will fall.

“You’ve got loss of stone, loss of mortar, localized cracking, just a constant deterioration of the stone fabric of the building itself,” says Travis. “Left unresolved, you’d start to see the foundation of those larger structures start to be compromised and we’d see a gradual decay and sequence of collapses.”

The non profit Mesa Verde Foundation is raising money to evaluate, analyze and repair the decay. Congressional funding is not significant enough to pay for restoration. That means the money has to come from private donors. Without their generosity, history may very well crumble.

“To lose something of this scale would be from an archeological standpoint, a significant loss, and living communities would lose a historical connection to this place,” Travis said. “This is a really remarkable and well preserved example of late prehistoric ancestral Puebloan architecture and everything it implies in community life, the nature of the social organization and the level of cooperation that may have occurred to construct something of this scale.”

Archeologists are monitoring the cracks and shifts with small monitors that measure any changes in lateral or vertical movement down to the millimeter on a year by year basis. The goal is to get an idea of the rate and the magnitude of the cracks, Travis said.

Historians estimate that as many as 100 people lived in Cliff Palace during the 13th century over a 30-year-period. They built several different towers, kivas, a large open plaza, a ramp way into the upper plaza area and a large assemblage of what could be considered the Chief’s area in the palace.