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Early scholars blamed nomads, the ancestors of the Apache and Navajo, for violently displacing the farmers.Over the past couple of decades, the main explanation has shifted to climate — a profound drought and cold snap that hit in the 1270s.Political instability, cultural conflict, violence, overcrowding and drought.Many of the challenges encountered by the ancestral Pueblo seem all too familiar in 2015, as hundreds of thousands of migrants flee from the Middle East and Africa towards Europe.At Spruce Tree House, Glowacki pulls out a map showing the latest results of an architectural analysis that she is helping the park to carry out.
Instead, the residents had to haul thousands of tonnes of sandstone blocks, cut timber and other materials down precarious paths to build the settlement, known as Spruce Tree House, in Mesa Verde National Park. Even more perplexing is what happened after they settled there.
Funded by the US National Science Foundation, the nearly US.5-million initiative is assessing how social and environmental factors influenced the populations of prehistoric Pueblo farmers from about 600 to 1300, says Tim Kohler, the VEP's principal investigator and an archaeologist at Washington State University in Pullman.
In one strand of research, the team drew on the rich history of archaeology in the region to compile a database of 18,000 prehistoric sites, which allowed them to measure the population and how it shifted over time suggested that people started leaving the Mesa Verde region at least 15 years before the drought hit.
Gradually, a history of the village has taken shape, showing that people assembled the first set of rooms in the alcove around the year 1200, and added more right up until the last residents abandoned the site around 85 years later.
The researchers can narrow construction dates to within a year or two by analysing tree-ring patterns in the wooden support beams in the ceilings and then matching them to an established tree-ring chronology for the region.
More than a century before the Mesa Verde villages emptied out, political disruptions and a monster drought destabilized the entire ancestral Pueblo world.