Tracking a vanished people through the Sierra Madre | Travel | Smithsonian
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Tracking a vanished people through the Sierra Madre

In 1890, Carl Lumholtz pushed into Mexico, on a search for the ancient culture now known as the Anasazi. Instead, he found the Mogollon

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Carl Lumholtz found his calling in the hills of his native Norway. As a young man, in the 1870s, he was moved to tears by the beauty of the mountains. In 1880, armed with a degree in natural science, he set off for northeastern Australia.

Seven years later, he got the idea for his next adventure. It would be another year before the discovery of Cliff Palace, in the Four Corners region of the Colorado Plateau, but word had reached Europe of other ancient ruins scattered across the American Southwest. Already, there was talk of a prehistoric culture of "cliff dwellers" — now known as the Anasazi — that seemed to have vanished into thin air. Lumholtz speculated that they had migrated south, into Mexico's Sierra Madre, and were still living there.

In six and a half years in Mexico, he didn't find a single Anasazi. But he did find remarkable ruins — 12-foot-high granaries, dwellings built in the nether reaches of caves or under ledges. What Lumholtz found did not fit into the rubric of the cliff-dweller culture. Years later, archaeologists determined that there were separate ancient cultures in what is now the American Southwest — the Anasazi being only one. Another — the one Lumholtz had stumbled upon — was the Mogollon, a mysterious people who, even more than the Anasazi, seem to have disappeared from the face of the earth.

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