Two special sorts of cliff dwelling are distinguished by archaeologists: the cliff-house, which is actually built on levels in the cliff, and the cavate, which is dug out, by using natural recesses or openings.
Rock-cut architecture generally refers to rather grander temples, but also tombs, cut into living rock, although for example the Ajanta Caves in India, of the 2nd century BCE to 5th century CE, probably housed several hundred Buddhist monks and are cut into a cliff, as are the Mogao Caves in China.
Some of the most famous cliff dwellings are those in North America, particularly among the canyons of the southwest, in Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado and Chihuahua in Mexico, some of which are still used by Native Americans. There has been considerable discussion as to their antiquity, but modern research finds no definite justification for assigning them to a distinct primitive race, or farther back than the ancestors of the modern Pueblo people. The area in which they occur coincides with that in which other traces of the Pueblo tribes have been found. The niches that were used are often of considerable size, occurring in cliffs up to a thousand feet in height, and approached by rock steps or log ladders.
- Ancestral Puebloan dwellings
- Bandiagara Escarpment
- Moki steps
- White Canyon (San Juan County, Utah)
- Water glyphs
- Timeline of dendrochronology timestamp events (section Cliff-dwellings etc. the Americas)
- Noble, David Grant. "Ancient Ruins of the Southwest. Northland Publishing, Flagstaff, Arizona 1995. ISBN 0-87358-530-5
- Oppelt, Norman T. "Guide to Prehistoric Ruins of the Southwest". Pruett Publishing, Boulder, Colorado, 1989. ISBN 0-87108-783-9.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Cliff-dwellings". Encyclopædia Britannica. 6 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 507.
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