Cliff Castles and Cave Dwellings of Europe/Preface
When in 1850 appeared the Report of the Secretary of War for the United States, containing Mr. J. H. Simpson's account of the Cliff Dwellings in Colorado, great surprise was awakened in America, and since then these remains have been investigated by many explorers, of whom I need only name Holmes' "Report of the Ancient Ruins in South-West Colorado during the Summers of 1875 and 1876," and Jackson's "Ruins of South- West Colorado in 1875 and 1877." Powell, Newberry, &c., have also described them. A summary is in "Prehistoric America," by the Marquis de Nadaillac, 1885, and the latest contribution to the subject are articles in Scribner's Magazine by E. S. Curtis, 1906 and 1909.
The Pueblos Indians dwell for the most part at a short distance from the Rio Grande; the Zuñi, however, one of their best known tribes, are settled far from that river, near the sources of the Gila. In the Pueblos country are tremendous cañons of red sandstone, and in their sides are the habitations of human beings perched on every ledge in inaccessible positions. Major Powell, United States Geologist, expressed his amazement at seeing nothing for whole days but perpendicular cliffs everywhere riddled with human dwellings resembling the cells of a honeycomb. The apparently inaccessible heights were scaled by means of long poles with lateral teeth disposed like the rungs of a ladder, and inserted at intervals in notches let into the face of the perpendicular rock. The most curious of these dwellings, compared to which the most Alpine chalet is of easy access, have ceased to be occupied, but the Maqui, in North-West Arizona, still inhabit villages of stone built on sandstone tables, standing isolated in the midst of a sandy ocean almost destitute of vegetation.
The cause of the abandonment of the cliff dwellings has been the diminished rainfall, that rendering the land barren has sent its population elsewhere. The rivers, the very streams, are dried up, and only parched water-courses show where they once flowed.
"The early inhabitants of the region under notice were wonderfully skilful in turning the result of the natural weathering of the rocks to account. To construct a cave-dwelling, the entrance to the cave or the front of the open gallery was walled up with adobes, leaving only a small opening serving for both door and window. The cliff houses take the form and dimensions of the platform or ledge from which they rise. The masonry is well laid, and it is wonderful with what skill the walls are joined to the cliff, and with what care the aspect of the neighbouring rocks has been imitated in the external architecture."
In Asia also these rock-dwellings abound. The limestone cliffs of Palestine are riddled with them. They are found also in Armenia and in Afghanistan. At Bamian, in the latter, "the rocks are perforated in every direction. A whole people could put up in the 'Twelve Thousand Galleries' which occupy the slopes of the valley for a distance of eight miles. Isolated bluffs are pierced with so many chambers that they look like honeycombs."
That Troglodytes have inhabited rocks in Africa has been known since the time of Pliny.
But it has hardly been realised to what an extent similar cliff dwellings have existed and do still exist in Europe.
In 1894, in my book, "The Deserts of Southern France," I drew attention to rock habitations in Dordogne and Lot, but I had to crush all my information on this subject into a single chapter. The subject, however, is too interesting and too greatly ramified to be thus compressed. It is one, moreover, that throws sidelights on manners and modes of life in the past that cannot fail to be of interest. The description given above of cliff dwellings in Oregon might be employed, without changing a word, for those in Europe.
To the best of my knowledge, the theme of European Troglodytes has remained hitherto undealt with, though occasional mention has been made of those on the Loire. It has been taken for granted that cave-dwellers belonged to a remote past in civilised Europe; but they are only now being expelled in Nottinghamshire and Shropshire, by the interference of sanitary officers.
Elsewhere, the race is by no means extinct. In France more people live underground than most suppose. And they show no inclination to leave their dwellings. Just one month ago from the date of writing this page, I sketched the new front that a man had erected to his paternal cave at Villiers in Loir et Cher. The habitation was wholly subterranean, but then it consisted of one room alone. The freshly completed face was cut in freestone, with door and window, and above were sculptured the aces of hearts, spades, and diamonds, an anchor, a cogwheel and a fish. Separated from this mansion was a second, divided from it by a buttress of untrimmed rock, and this other also was newly fronted, occupied by a neat and pleasant-spoken woman who was vastly proud of her cavern residence. "Mais c'est tout ce qu'on peut désirer. Enfin on s'y trouve très bien."
- Nadaillac, "Prehistoric America," Lond. 1885, p. 205.
- Reclus, "Asia," iii. p. 245.