Prehistoric, usually multistoried house of the ancestors of present-day Pueblo Indians, built from circa 1000 along the sides or under the overhangs of cliffs. The use of hand-hewn stone building blocks and adobe mortar in these communal dwellings was unexcelled even in later times. Rooms on upper levels could be entered either by doorways from adjoining rooms or by ladders through holes in the ceilings; ground-floor rooms could be entered only through the ceiling. It is thought that the cliff dwellings were built as a defense against invading Navajo and Apache tribes. They were deserted by the inhabitants around the end of the 13th century. Many ruins remain, including notable ones at Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Mesa Verde National Park, and Montezuma Castle National Monument.
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Two special sorts of cliff-dwelling are distinguished by archaeologists;
Some of the most famous of these are the North American cliff-dwellings, particularly among the canyons of the southwest, in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado and Chihuahua in Mexico, some of which are still used by Native Americans. There has been considerable discussion as to their antiquity, but modern research finds no definite justification for assigning them to a distinct primitive race, or farther back than the ancestors of the modern Pueblo people. The area in which they occur coincides with that in which other traces of the Pueblo tribes have been found. The niches which were utilized are often of considerable size, occurring in cliffs to a thousand feet in height, and approached by rock steps or log ladders.