How to Make a Model of Cliff Dwellings


Native Americans of the Anasazi culture built large communal dwellings on ledges in canyon walls along the tributaries of the Colorado and the Rio Grande in Utah, New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona. These huge habitations, which were also built on mesas in the same areas, were constructed during the 11th to 14th centuries. The cliff dwelling people were agriculturists who farmed the fertile river valleys. Their high-perched communal homes were easy to defend against aggressive tribes such as the Navajo.

Things You'll Need

  • Clay
  • Reference book, with good quality photographs of the original dwellings
  • Doweling sticks
  • Fine branches
  • Acrylic paint
  • Water colors
  • Paint brush
  • Build a clay model to represent a small section of a canyon ledge. Use good quality photographs of canyon ledges along the Rio Grande and Colorado Rivers, as a reference. Keep the overall size and scale of the completed model in mind. In reality, the communal homes of these ancient people were huge and it is important to represent this correctly in any model of cliff dwellings.

  • Decide on the actual size that you will make each dwelling. The original stone buildings were about five stories tall and therefore towered above the Anasazi farmers, who built and lived in them.

  • Find figures or make clay models to represent these ancient people of the American Southwest, always keeping the scale of your completed model foremost in your mind. Attempt to make your figurines as authentic as possible. The Anasazi people were short and stocky, with dark hair that was typically wavy.

  • Create detail in your clay model. Use your fingers to form stone-like shapes in the walls of your cliff dwellings. The Anasazi people placed attractively shaped stones on either side of the wall core, which consisted of irregular and loose stones. In certain case, the walls of these dwellings consisted of large, regular blocks of limestone or sandstone. The masonry was both refined and elegant.

  • Use doweling sticks of 1/4-inch diameter, to create a roof over each structure. The Anasazi people placed sturdy poles horizontally across the top of their structures. Slender poles and branches were subsequently placed on the larger, foundation poles. Mud was placed over the fine branches to finish and waterproof the roof.

  • Make your doorways narrow and short. You can give the top of some doorways a “T” shape. Certain archaeologists believe that the top portion was wider to accommodate whatever baggage the people were carrying on their shoulders.

  • Use acrylic or water based paint to paint your model. The Anasazi builders placed handprints on the walls of their completed structures, so paint tiny images on some walls, to give your model a greater sense of authenticity.

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