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Douglass suggested in 1929 that the great drought might have been responsible for the Native American “abandonment” of Mesa Verde.
ouglass’ idea remains exceedingly popular with scientists and the general public because it is commonsensical.
he next day, he enlisted a group of friends to carry the beam a short distance to the cliff dwelling he wanted to repair.
(Unlike his ancestors, who had lived in pithouses on the mesa tops, his people built their homes as large apartment buildings in beautiful, massive, natural rockshelters below the mesa tops—probably for defensive reasons.) The young man and his friends used the beam to shore up the roof of the room they used for ceremonies.
That stand contained a large number of tall trees that could be fashioned into construction beams, but it also had spiritual significance as part of a sacred landscape. is stone ax was made of a river cobble that he had painstakingly shaped into an ax head and, with a bit of pine pitch, hafted to a wooden handle of bent willow branches and sinew.
Once he found a straight juniper he liked, he pummeled its base, chopping through bark and wood layers with blow after blow.
nd when we look at the tree-ring dates decade by decade, some intriguing patterns emerge.
Once they returned it to good working order, they continued to use it for a few more years, but they were the last holdouts in a sparsely populated region.
Finally, they too left for points south, just as the rest of the population had done several years earlier.
ecause of dendrochronology, or the study of “tree time,” we know when the young lumberjack cut down the juniper and when he and his construction-worker friends repaired what archaeologists now call Kiva D at Spring House in present-day Mesa Verde National Park.
(Why, you ask, was an astronomer studying tree rings?
He studied trees while trying to find a land-based record of the 11-year sunspot cycle.) s part of his study, Douglass defined the “great drought,” a 24-year period of severe drought recorded in tree rings from 1275 to 1299—a span that included some of the driest years in the 2,000 years represented in his tree-ring record.
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