MONTEZUMA COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4)– It’s one of the crown jewels of the National Parks system. A newly discovered crack could have wide ranging impacts on the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park.
The 800-year-old archeological wonder is in southwestern Colorado. Archeologists believe it was around the year 1200 when inhabitants started to make permanent structures inside the Cliff Palace.
“Just the way these buildings are put together, they’re subject to deterioration over time,” said Mesa Verde National Park spokesman Scott Travis.
Last summer a park ranger started to notice something as he conducted a tour around “Kiva F.” It’s considered a culturally significant structure to the people who once lived there.
“We saw a void or basically an area that opened up rather suddenly just on the bench above the wooden brace,” said Travis. “The wall had started to lean more inwards than it had previously.”
The wall leans inward a total of 31 centimeters. While other cracks are visible throughout the site, this one is considered significant.
“We have had problems with this particular site but it was the rate and scale of it that had started to change,” said Travis. “If we didn’t do something quickly we were going to lose this wall.”
Archeologists and engineers believe that if the kiva wall was allowed to collapse it would have undermined a nearby dwelling, potentially destroyed the 700-year-old archeological treasure.
The park service is trying to figure out if there’s a larger problem within the palace, for instance a poor foundation, which dates back nearly a millennium.
“Series of cracks were the subtle indicators of something going on below us,” said Travis. “It’s very important to address these immediate needs but then go on trying to understand the long term needs.”
Experts have been examining the changes to the kiva but Travis said if the problem isn’t fixed more studying needs to be done over the next few years.
The National Park Service has rerouted the tour around to highlight a different kiva. Daily tours continue at Mesa Verde and the park remains open.