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Figure 1. Cliff dwellings and other Ancestral Pueblo ruins...Click to Enlarge ImageFor about 700 years, from A.D. 600 to 1300, a large farming population inhabited the Colorado Plateau in what is now the Four Corners area. The best known of these settlements is Mesa Verde, but other communities in the region supported as many as several hundred families. Relatively suddenly, in the late 1200s, the Ancestral Pueblo abandoned these communities, moving to the south. The authors explore the factors that spurred these people to leave behind what had supported a relatively comfortable living for them and their ancestors for centuries. They argue that no one factor can explain this exodus. Evidence suggests that climate shifts both reduced productivity and led to immigration and overpopulation, straining the region's resources. In the end, famine and violence likely provided potent motives for departure.

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