The Hohokam

Anasazi - Hohokam - Mogollon - Sinagua

by Jay W. Sharp

The Hohokam

Like the Anasazis, the Hohokam Puebloans occupied a geologically and ecologically diverse region. At its maximum, their range extended from the basin and range and the low desert country of northern Sonora and southern Arizona, northward up the famed Mogollon Rim escarpment and onto the Colorado Plateau’s southwestern edge.

The Hohokam followed a cultural development broadly parallel to that of their Puebloan counterparts, but they also engineered and built the most advanced canal irrigation systems in our western desert region, possibly in North America. They created a unique genre of art in the deserts of western North America, and they marched more frequently to Mesoamerican cultural drumbeats from the south.

Casa Grande Pueblo

Through the centuries, the Hohokam constructed, operated, maintained, abandoned and reconstructed networks of hundreds of miles of interconnecting canals to serve neighboring fields and villages. Around the Hohokam Pueblo Grande site alone (near Phoenix’s Sky Harbor International Airport), they constructed an irrigation system that delivered water across some 16 square miles of arable land. At their peak, the Hohokam raised a broad diversity of crops, both for food and for fibers.

If their agriculture and irrigation systems offer insight into Hohokam technical abilities, social organization and resourcefulness, their crafts set standards in creativity and artistry. They produced exquisite jewelry, ornaments and mosaics from shells and exotic minerals; vessels and effigies from stone; vessels and figurines from clay; and paintings on ceramic surfaces.

Hohokam, oval-shaped, depressed ball court

The Hohokam manifested their contacts with the south most strikingly in platform mounds and ballcourts somewhat similar to those of the Mesoamericans. The Hohokam built “Large, rectangular mounds…at more than 40 sites between 1150 and 1300,” Linda Cordell said in her book Archaeology of the Southwest. Presumably, the Hohokam utilized the mounds as stages for ceremony and ritual or as living sites for the elite, although the Hohokam use is not fully understood by archaeologists.

Simultaneously, the Hohokam built more than 250 ballcourts at more than 150 of their larger communities in Arizona. Depressed and oval-shaped, the ball courts could accommodate dozens to hundreds of fans along the embankments. The Hohokam, archaeologists believe, adapted the mounds and ballcourts to resonate with their own cultural views and needs. In about the 13th century, the Hohokam apparently ceased building ballcourts and playing the ancient game, perhaps signaling a waning contact with Mesoamerica to the south and the approaching end of the Hohokam time in the desert.

Next: The Mogollon

Anasazi - Hohokam - Mogollon - Sinagua

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