The Hohokam (pronounced ho-ho-KHAM) were sedentary desert dwellers who farmed
the Gila River and Salt River Valleys from the time period A.D. 1-1450. Hohokam
is a Akimel O’odham or Pima word which means “those who have gone” or “all used
up”. The Hohokam had a complex society and lived in thriving villages in south
central Arizona and northern Mexico. They traded goods with other cultures, were
hunters and gatherers, built canals and irrigated farmlands and had impressive
cultural accomplishments in architecture, rock art and crafts.
It is not specifically known where the Hohokam originated from, but many
archaeologists argue that the Hohokam arose from local hunting and gathering
cultures who lived in the desert southwest of North America since B.C. 7000.
They occupied a vast territory in the Sonoran desert including as far north as
Prescott, AZ west to Yuma, AZ east to Apache Junction, AZ and south to the
modern day Mexican border. Dozens of villages were built by the Hohokam in the
Salt River valley or modern day Phoenix. Furthermore, more than 20,000 Hohokam
inhabited the region during the classic period (A.D. 1150-1450).
The Hohokam diet consisted of plants and meats
collected through farming arid land, hunting, fishing and gathering. The edible
plants consisted of corn, beans and squash (the tree sisters). As well as
amaranth (native flour), gourds, tobacco, cotton, agave, devils claw, little
barley grass and harvested wild plants. Furthermore, the meat the Hohokam ate
included rabbit, deer, fish and desert tortoise.
Canals and Irrigation
The Hohokam used an extensive
network of hand dug canals to deliver water to irrigate desert fields. Over
1,000 miles of canals were dug. The longest canal known was over 20 miles long
and the largest canals were 10 feet deep by 30 feet wide. Two different types of
canals were built, u-shaped and v-shaped. U-shaped canals had greater width and
allowed water to flow at a slower rate. V-shaped canals were smaller in width
and much deeper in depth, which allowed water to flow at a much greater speed.
Weirs made of tree branches and brush, were used to block off and direct water
flow at designated points in the canals. Many modern day canals are located in
the same place as prehistoric Hohokam canals.
Through the years, the Hohokam lived in
different types of houses including pit houses, compound houses, big houses and
platform mounds. Pit houses were built as early as A.D. 450 and were dug 1 foot
into the ground. Made from wood and cactus ribs, then covered with mud and
adobe, they maintained warmer temperatures in the winter and cooler temperatures
in the summer. Pit houses were single room dwellings, activities were done
outside and people slept inside. Animals were kept outside and a very small pile
of hot coals were placed on the floor center to keep the room warm winter.
Compound houses were built from A.D. 1150-1450 and housed families. They were
made of caliche and mud stacked blocks, with stones at the base of the walls for
support. The roof was made of woody cactus ribs and mesquite or palo verde beams
supported the woody roof.
Big houses were built from A.D. 1150-1450 and were similar to compound
houses, but were larger, had two stories and were possibly used for ceremonies
and astrology. Platform mounds built from A.D. 1150-1450, were large rectangular
mounds that evolved into a style with walls built of caliche rocks and adobe
mortar. Researchers have hypothesized that Hohokam platform mounds were tied to
the organization and operation of the canal systems or as ceremonial temples or
living space (Andrew and Bostwick 2000).
The Ball Court
The Hohokam constructed ball courts
from A.D. 750-1200 and the idea likely came from culture in Meso America. A ball
court was an oval or bowl shaped depression, approximately 80-115 feet in length
by 50 feet wide. Berms surrounded the ball courts and the floor was covered in
caliche. Games were played with round balls and covered in animal hide. Ball
courts possibly represented a passageway between the upper and lower spiritual
worlds or were a form of celebration, entertainment, religious/spiritual
activity or used as a trade site.
The Hohokam traded for goods such as
raw materials and finished products by using their cotton, surplus crops and
jewelry. There trade network reached from Mexico to Utah and from the Pacific
coast to New Mexico and into the Great Plains. It is also likely that the
Hohokam had far reaching trade routes with ancient Meso American cultures to the
south. Meso America is an ancient culture area between Mexico and Honduras,
where pre-Columbian societies flourished.
Red-on-buff bowl (courtesy of
Pueblo Grande Museum)
Ceramics and Pottery
The Hohokam produced three types of ceramics including: plain ware, red ware
and red-on-buff pottery. They made bowls, jars, pitchers, spindle whorl,
effigies and figurines made from clay, sand, crushed rock and water. A paddle
and anvil manufacturing technique and coil method was used to make products.
Designs on ceramics include: geomorphic, zoomorphic (animal) and anthropomorphic
(human) images. Zoomorphic designs include: dogs (the only domesticated animal
kept by the Hohokam), sheep, deer, birds, snakes and lizards. Other images
portrayed on pottery include: water, sun, wind, farming and mountains. Pottery
was pit fired using wood or dung as fuel and it showed a buff color when
finished. Other products that the Hohokam produced with skill include: textiles
(clothing), basketry and jewelry made from shell, stone and bones.
Tools and Instruments
Hohokam did not fashion metal tools, so they relied mostly on stone materials to
make tools. Early Hohokam tools were some of the most beautiful ever made in the
southwest. Tools made include: projectile points (arrowheads), knives, scrapers,
drills, axes, mortars, pestles, clubs, hoes, hammers, manos, metates and musical
instruments. The Hohokam made some limited types of tools from wood (digging
paddles) and bone (flutes and whistles).
Rock Art: Pictographs & Petroglyphs
left ancient images placed on stone called rock art. Hohokam rock art consists
mostly of petroglyphs, which are made by pecking or scratching at the surface of
rock creating an image or design by exposing the lighter-colored rock
underneath. Occasionally the Hohokam painted designs on rocks, which are called
pictographs (Bostwick 1998).
South Mountain Park / Preserve located in south Phoenix, AZ is home to a
couple thousand Hohokam petroglyphs. The Hohokam placed these petroglyphs on
rock outcroppings and rock formations of importance to them. Furthermore, the
top four rock art designs found in South Mountain Park / Preserve are:
anthropomorphs, various circles, quadrupeds and snakes (Bostwick 2002).
Between A.D. 1355-1450 the Hohokam abandoned
large centralized settlements and water systems. Small groups of people moved
into the desert and those that stayed behind in the Gila and Salt River valleys
were in smaller villages. Then in A.D. 1450 the Hohokam culture vanishes from
the Sonoran desert, leaving behind remnants and artifacts of a once great
society. Some possible reasons for the collapse of the Hohokam culture are: soil
salinization, disease, floods, droughts, climate change, warfare and internal
strife. When Spanish explorers arrived in the southwest in A.D. 1539, they
encountered Piman-speaking people the Akimel O’odham. The Akimel O’odham (Pima)
natives claim to be the descendents of the Hohokam.
A.D. 1 Hohokam culture begins
Irrigation canals built
A.D. 500 Use of bow and arrow and atlatl
Ball courts built and trade networking increased
A.D. 1000 Red-on-buff
pottery production increased
A.D. 1450 Hohokam society vanishes
Spanish explorers arrive
A.D. 1-750 Pioneer Period – Small villages
and simple farms, pottery begins.
A.D. 750-900 Colonial Period – Villages grew larger and first ball courts
A.D. 900-1150 Sedentary Period – Further population growth, structures grew
A.D. 1150-1450 Classic Period – A time of more growth and change, small
to desert and Hohokam culture vanishes.
Andrew, John P. and Bostwick, Todd W. Desert
Farmers at the Rivers Edge The Hohokam and Pueblo Grande. Phoenix: City of
Bostwick, Todd W. Landscape of the Spirits: Hohokam Rock Art at South
Mountain Park. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2002.
Bostwick, Todd W. Pueblo Grande Museum, Profiles No. 18, Hohokam Rock Art:
Ancient Images Left in Stone. Phoenix: Pueblo Grande Museum, 1998.
Bostwick, Todd W. Pueblo Grande Museum, Profiles No. 14, Pueblo Grande
National Historic Landmark. Phoenix: Pueblo Grande Museum, 1994.
Hohokam Indian Page. 1998. 7 Dec. 1998
Olson, Justin. The Hohokam Legacy. Phoenix: City of Phoenix Parks and
Recreation Department, 2007.
Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park. 2007. 1 Nov. 2007 Visit the Pueblo Grande Museum
Wikipedia. 2007. 6 Nov. 2007 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hohokam
Information compiled by: Tony Dobbs City of Phoenix Park Ranger II, December