When Phoenix belonged to the Hohokam

From about A.D. 1 to 1450, the Hohokam engineered hundreds of miles of canals to irrigate their fields.The greatest prehistoric farming civilization in the Americas was located where Phoenix now stands. Dozens of Hohokam villages and farmsteads once dotted the landscape.
They were expert farmers, growing crops such as corn, beans, squash, and cotton. They used adobe to construct their villages, often centered around platform mounds and ballcourts, and engineered hundreds of miles of canals to irrigate their fields. Distinguished by their red-on-buff pottery, the Hohokam wove beautiful textiles and made jewelry from shell obtained from the Gulf of California. Drought, floods and perhaps internal strife, forced the Hohokam to abandon the Salt River Valley in the fifteenth century. When Spanish explorers arrived in the sixteenth century, they found the Hohokam villages in ruins. However, they also found thriving villages of Akimel O'odham (Pima) natives, who claim to be descendents of the Hohokam. Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park is dedicated to increasing knowledge and understanding of the peoples of the Southwest, past and present.

Hohokam village.JPG (45602 bytes) Hohokam Village

The Hohokam apparently employed acid-etching to produce designs on shells. Acetic acid from fermented cactus juice was use to eat away portions of the shell not protected by tar. Four-story Casa Grande, which seems to have been an astronomical observatory, required at least 600 big wooden beams, all of which had to be transported over 50 miles from sources in the mountains. (3) The Hohokam built an elaborate, well-engineered system of irrigation canals.  Unexplained are many flat-bottomed oval pits up to 182 feet long, 55 feet wide, and 13-18 feet deep. Some surmise they were ball courts.  Also puzzling are rectangular earthen mounds, 75 x 95 feet at the base and 12 feet high, with flat adobe-covered tops.

The history of the Salt River Valley is not the same as the history of Phoenix In fact, all of the irrigation canals that lace the Phoenix area now are just "re-digs" of the original network of canals dug by the Hohokam people nearly 1000 years ago.

The Hohokam inhabited the Salt River and Gila River Valleys for 2000 years.They built the most modern, extensive irrigation system in the world at that time.  It is estimated that the Hohokam maintained some 60 to 130 miles of canals just in the modern Phoenix area, with many more miles in surrounding areas including the present-day Casa Grande area.Unfortunately, not much is left in the way of remnants of these remarkable people.However, there are some rather striking remains such as the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument near Casa Grande and the Pueblo Grande Museum in Phoenix, both of which have intact Hohokam buildings and relics.

The Hohokam seemed to have vanished fairly quickly, however it is more likely that for various reasons (including environmental changes, geological changes, and warfare), the Hohokam abandoned their system of canals and became more nomadic.  It is fairly widely believed that the Pima Indians (or, more appropriately, the Tohono O'Odham), whose relatives now inhabit areas in and around the Salt River Valley, are descendants of the Hohokam.

Silence fell upon the Valley for 400 years..

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Map of Arizona


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Map of the reservations and Four Corners 


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