Archaeological Adventures of Arizona Petroglyph
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By Lee Rochwerger
Reprinted from "The Arizonian"


Arizona's rich and varied history began with settled communities over 2000 years ago and many of its archaeological riches are within 90 miles of Phoenix.

One of Arizona's earliest cultures was the Hohokam ("Hohokam" is a Pima word for "Those Who Have Gone" or "All Used Up") who first settled along the Gila River in the 3d Century B C. They may have been the descendants of the earlier and very primitive Cochise culture or immigrants from the south. They established two distinct subgroups: Desert and Riverine. While the Desert Hohokam remained primarily hunter-gatherers, the Riverine Hohokam became exceptional water managers, practitioners of remarkably successful irrigation farming. This agricultural success permitted the development of trade and crafts, including distinctive ceramics, carvings, pottery, mosaics and jewelry. Hohokam culture eventually expanded south of Tucson and north as far as Flagstaff, encompassing some 30,000 square miles, with over 22 towns in the Salt River valley.

Hohokam irrigation canal building reached its zenith ca. AD 1000-1400, including a 6-mile canal from the Salt River to the Los Muertos village. Some canals may have been as much as 80 feet wide and 20 feet deep, with about 200 miles of canals in the Salt River Valley alone. They cultivated corn, beans and squash and collected fruits, seeds, nuts, fibers, etc. from desert plants, such as mesquite, palo verde, prickly pear, cholla, agave and saguaro. The Hohokam also hunted deer, bighorn sheep, rabbits, squirrels, birds and fish.

Hohokam dwellings were originally pit-houses, shallow excavations roofed with sticks, mud and thatch. Later architecture (ca. 12th Century), influenced by Pueblo and Salado cultures, included freestanding adobe construction. Most interestingly, they also constructed ball courts (ca. AD 700-1300), which were most likely imported from the contemporaneous Toltec and Post-Classical Mayan cultures of Mexico. The Hohokam ball courts, however, were semicircular to oval excavations surrounded by earthen embankments, rather than the rectangular to "I"-shaped Mexican masonry courts. Hohokam ball courts were used for ceremonial events as well as for ball games, played with hard rubber balls, probably imported from Mexico. The ball game fell into desuetude in the 14th Century, probably the result of a players' strike or failed contract negotiations.

This rich Hohokam culture of farmers, engineers, craftsmen and traders disappeared inexplicably ca. AD 1450, but they were most probably the ancestors of today's Pima and Papago cultures of southern Arizona.

Those interested in visiting Hohokam sites can begin at Pueblo Grande, 4619 E. Washington St., Phoenix, where apparently farsighted Hohokam commercial developers established this settlement just east of Sky Harbor Airport. Pueblo Grande is one of over 20 Hohokam sites along an ancient canal network in the Salt River valley. It is a freestanding pueblo of mud and stone masonry, constructed on a large earthen platform, buttressed by a rock and caliche retaining wall. It dates to the 12th-13th Centuries AD and was serviced by two Hohokam canals. Two or three ball courts were constructed at Pueblo Grande. The site includes an interesting interpretive museum. >>NEXT>>


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