The Hohokam Culture

By City of Phoenix Ranger, Jerry Owen

The Hohokam Native American Culture flourished in the middle Gila River and the lower Salt River basins of today’s central Arizona from about 1 A.D. to about 1450 A.D.  These people may be best known today for the extensive canal irrigation system they developed along these rivers starting about 800 A.D.  It rivaled any irrigation system constructed in the ancient world.  Using simple excavation tools, such as digging sticks, the Hohokam developed an entire network of canals, some running almost 20 miles long.  These canals were expertly designed to fall at a steady rate of a few feet per mile to balance erosion with sediment drop.  The irrigation canals allowed extensive agricultural production of cotton, maize, beans, and other crops.  Numerous villages developed along the canal system, including several near South Mountain Park and Preserve.  The Hohokam also hunted game and gathered plants and other resources at South Mountain and left behind hundreds of sites and thousands of petroglyphs pecked into boulders and rock formations.  Today we walk some of the same trails they used over one thousand years ago.  Think about that!  If you see ancient petroglyphs or potsherds, please do not touch or disturb them.  Respect the ancient Hohokam – “those who have gone” in the O’odham language.

In the 14th century, environmental and cultural changes impacted the Hohokam world.  Repeated flooding greatly deepened the Salt River bed destroying the canal inlets and forcing regular extensions upstream.  Further flooding damaged other important segments of the canal system curtailing agricultural production and leading to abandonment of many villages.  The collapse of the Hohokam Culture is generally dated to about 1375 to 1450 A.D.

For more information about the Hohokam, visit Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park, 4619 East Washington Street, Phoenix, AZ 85034, 602.495.0901.