There are many examples of underground, earth sheltered or cave homes. You can find more under “Links“.
It is estimated that China has 40 million people living in underground or cave homes called “yaodongs“. Many of these live in central china where the silty soil has made it easy to build this way since ancient times. In north western china, half buried (earth bermed) dugouts are a popular defense against the extreme weather.
When the Romans invaded ancient Scotland and Ireland, they found that many of the locals (ancient Scotts, Weems and Picks) were living underground as a defense against the cold. It worked pretty well against the Romans also.
Over half the people in the Australian town of “Coober Pedy” hide from the hot sun by building comfortable homes in abandoned opal mines. Even the churches and hotels are underground.
There are 36 “underground cities” near the town of Cappadocia, in Turkey. These were originally built by the Hittites 3400 years ago. During times of persecution, Christians were known to have hidden in these underground labyrinths. Most of these have remained in use continuously, but a large “hotel” complex (Güzelyurt) was discovered as recently as 2007.
The Berbers in Tunisia were first driven underground to hide from marauders, but soon found it to be the best way to hide from the heat also. Now Tunisia is also famous for its underground architecture, including the town of Tataouine, used as the Starwars set for Anakin Skywalker’s home town. Luke Skywalker also grew up on the same planet (Tunisia), but in a slightly more modern underground home that has now been turned into a hotel for geeks.
Iran, with a similar climate and topography, has similar enduring underground architecture. Kandovan Iran is best know for this, but there are many other areas. When I showed my plans to an Iranian co-worker, he was quite excited to discuss that his family lives in one of these and how much he had enjoyed growing up there. Bamiyan Afganistan, Vardzia Georgia, Bandiagara Mali, Sassi di Matera Italy, and other regions all have a history of building this way. There are some areas of Spain, such as Gaudix in the south of Spain, that are also well known for their homes carved into the surrounding hills.
Speaking of Cliffs, how about Mesa Verde in the USA. Unlike most of the others, it is more of a museum than a current way of life, but still very interesting.
In more recent times, WWI and WWII each had periods when soldiers and civilians hunkered down underground for protection. The Viet Cong also used the underground for their homes, hospitals, storage areas and could even travel long distances thru the undergound tunnels. Unfortunately, most of these war time tunnels were dank dirty diseased places that probably didn’t help the cause of underground housing.
One thing that most of these successful underground homes have in common is a dry climate… This removes one of the main concerns about underground living; cool walls leading to condensation (of humid air) and, eventually, unhealthy mold. Modern materials technology makes it possible to overcome this problem, and reap all the other benefits of earth sheltered living, even in South East Michigan.