The earliest residents of Canyon de Chelly, called "Basketmakers"
by archeologists, lived in pithouses between 300-420 A.D. Around 700 A.D., the Anasazi
began to construct masonry homes. It seems the population of the canyon remained modest
for several centuries, increasing sharply after 1050 A.D. This influx of people expanded
the population, and the White House and Ledge ruins were built. Indians that had
settlements on the plateau outside the canyon moved to live in the cliff dwellings which
offered excellent shelter and an effective defense against external attack. Sometime in
the 1200's, people began to leave the canyon and by 1284 the last village was vacant.
Why did the Anasazi leave? Certainly drought was a key factor, but warfare, pestilence,
social breakdown, and over use of the canyon's resources all likely played a part. It
would be 400 years before the Navajo would settle in the canyon.