The Ancient Pueblo peoples are known for their cliff dwellings found throughout the American Southwest, in places like Mesa Verde, Bandelier, Montezuma Castle, and the Gila Cliff Dwellings.

Why did they build their homes in such difficult to reach locations?

  • I'll look into in deeper when I get the time, but the traditional explanation I always heard was the Apache.
    – T.E.D.
    Dec 10, 2013 at 17:30
  • Also, stone is good for keeping a nice stable climate. Cools the room down when it's hot, heats it up when it's cold. That doesn't explain the location, though, just the material. Dec 10, 2013 at 17:50
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    Not enough trees for wood houses, and water too precious to make adobe with, doesn't leave many choices than stone. Castles are built on top of hills to enhance defense, but why lug all the stone to some remote hill when it is already in a hill? Dec 11, 2013 at 6:06

2 Answers 2


The Pueblo Indians were surrounded by many nomadic tribes which are revered for their fierce fighting skills. Today we collectively call those tribes "Apachean" and/or Navajo. The Pueblo Indians were agricultural and according to the Spanish, they were very peaceful. Spanish missionaries built churches amongst them and early European settlers traded with them with few problems. (They was an Indian uprising at Acoma in the 1500s and the friar was killed after he abused the Indians for many years by eating too much of their scarce food, but it appears to be the exception). The choice of building structure is defensive and was very successful until the arrival of the Spanish. The Pueblo Indians chose defense rather than to engage with the fierce warrior tribes surrounding them.


One consideration is that, logistically speaking, trading networks always require caches or vaults in order to temporarily store the commodities travelling along the network. These vaults must be secure in order to avoid loss from theft.

Archaeology shows that for the most part, these stone dwellings were not dwellings at all. That is to say, they stored maize instead of serving as lodgings.

Although from our perspective they might look defensive to an almost paranoid degree, in fact they are as likely to have been quite an aggressive installation. In the same way that the Normans built strong fortresses in Ireland and Britain in order to subjugate it, these vaults of maize might have tied together a trading network meant to control large sections of the American population.

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    That's interesting, I'd never heard they were super secure storehouses. Do you have a cite for that?
    – two sheds
    Nov 19, 2014 at 2:32
  • I'll try to find it.
    – Nick
    Nov 19, 2014 at 22:24
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    I grew up in the region and I've read lots about the archaeology (House of Rain is a good book). I recently read an article about the sites in south eastern Utah have just been opened to archaeology, and many have been found with maize still in them. My guess is that the people made their granaries secure and hard to reach, but their dwellings could be a lot more flimsy and so have been lost to time. In 1,000 years my house will be dust, but the foundations of my bank will probably still be around.
    – Nick
    Nov 19, 2014 at 22:34
  • Another advantage of a stone storehouse is it would be drier than dirt and thus preserve stored grain from mold better than a dirt one
    – Oldcat
    Sep 3, 2015 at 22:10

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