See E. W. Haury, The Hohokam (1976).
Hohokam (ho-ho-KAHM) is the name applied to one of the four major prehistoric archaeological traditions of the American Southwest. Variant spellings in current, official usage include Hobokam, Huhugam and Huhukam. The culture was differentiated from others in the region in the 1930s by archaeologist Harold S. Gladwin, who applied the existing O'odham term, to classify the remains he was excavating in the Lower Gila Valley. According to the U.S. National Park Service Website, Hohokam is a Pima (O'odham) word used by archaeologists to identify a group of people that lived in the Sonoran Desert of North America.
According to local oral tradition, the Hohokam may be the ancestors of the historic Akimel O'odham and Tohono O'odham peoples in Southern Arizona. Recent work among the Sobaipuri, ancient ancestors of the modern Pima, indicates that Pima groups were present in this region at the end of the Hohokam sequence.
The term Hohokam, borrowed from the Akimel O'odham, is used to define an archaeological culture that existed from the beginning of the current era to about the middle of the 15th century AD. As an abstract construct this culture was centered on the middle Gila River and lower Salt River drainages, in what is known as the Phoenix basin. This is referred to as the Hohokam Core Area, as opposed to the Hohokam Peripheries; or adjacent regions into which the Hohokam Culture extended. Collectively, the Core and Peripheries formed what is referred to as the Hohokam regional system, which collectively occupied the northern or Upper Sonoran Desert in what is now Arizona. Within a larger context, the Hohokam Culture area inhabited a central position between the Patayan Culture, situated along the Lower Colorado River and in southern California; the Trincheras Culture of Sonora, Mexico; the Mogollon Culture located in eastern Arizona, southwest New Mexico, and northwest Chihuahua, Mexico; as well as the Anasazi Culture in northern Arizona, northern New Mexico, southwest Colorado, and southern Utah.
The Hohokam always seemed to have used an assortment of simplistic canals combined with weirs in their various agricultural pursuits. However, between the 7th and 14th centuries they also built and maintained extensive irrigation networks along the lower Salt and middle Gila rivers that rivaled the complexity of those used in the ancient Near East, Egypt, and China. These were constructed using relatively simple excavation tools, without the benefit of advanced engineering technologies. Over 70 years of archaeological research has revealed that the Hohokam cultivated varieties of cotton, tobacco, maize, beans and squash, as well as harvested a vast assortment of wild plants. Late in the Hohokam Chronological Sequence they also used extensive dry farming systems primarily to grow agave. Their reliance on agricultural strategies based on canal irrigation, vital in their less than hospitable desert environment and arid climate, provided the basis for the aggregation of rural populations into stable urban centers.
Overall, Hohokam villages and smaller settlements can be classified within the rancheria-tradition; these typically found near water and arable land, and identified by clusters of residential areas composed of discrete groups of habitation and utility structures combined with extramural use areas. Many features of early Hohokam domestic architecture, large square or rectangular pithouses, seem to have been transplanted relatively intact, from early Formative Period examples first developed in the Tucson basin. However, by the 7th century AD, a distinct Hohokam architectural tradition emerged. Thus, throughout the Hohokam Chronological Sequence individual residential structures were normally excavated approximately 40 cm below ground level, with plastered or compacted floors that covered between 12 and 35 m2, and featured a circular bowl-shaped clay-lined hearth situated near the wall-entry.
Hohokam burial practices varied over time. Initially, the primary method employed was flexed inhumation, similar to the tradition used by the southern Mogollon Culture, located immediately to the east. In the late Formative and Preclassic periods the Hohokam cremated their dead, again strikingly similar to the traditions documented among the historic Patayan Culture situated to the west along the Lower Colorado River. Although the particulars of the practice changed somewhat, the Hohokam cremation tradition remain dominate, until around AD 1300. At this time extended inhumation, similar to that used by the Salado tradition to the north and northeast, was quickly adopted. Also of interest, was that many of the details of the late Hohokam burial patterns were very similar to the tradition utilized by the historic Tohono and Akimel O'odham.
Hohokam ceramics are defined by a distinct Plain, Red, and Decorated ware tradition. Overall Hohokam pottery was made from a small fine clay base connected to a series of coils that were thinned and shaped using the paddle and anvil technique. Hohokam Plain and Red wares were primarily tempered with a variety of materials including micaceous, phyllite, or Squaw Peak schist, as well as granite, quartz, quartzite, and arkosic sands. Analytically, based on the type of temper used these are classified as to the geographic setting of their manufacture, and are referred to as Gila (Gila River basin), Wingfield (Agua Fria basin, the Northern Periphery, or Lower Verde Area), Squaw Peak (Phoenix Metro area north of the Salt River), South Mountain (Phoenix Metro area south of the Salt River), or Salt (Salt or Verde river basins) Plain and Red wares. The surfaces of Plain wares were smoothed to some extent and many were polished, and after the vessels were fired turned a color that ranged from light or dark brown, gray, to orange. Later in time the interiors of bowls were slipped with a black carbonous material. Hohokam Red wares were slipped with using an iron based pigment, that turned red after the vessel was fired.
The manufacture of decorated Hohokam pottery was similar to that of the plain wares. However, the clays tended to be of a finer quality and were tempered with caliche and limited amounts of very finely ground micaceous schist and small particles of vegetive material.
It is important to remember that the HCS is applied only to the Hohokam Core Area, which is the Gila-Salt river basin associated with Phoenix, Arizona, as opposed to what has come to be known as the Hohokam Peripheries. The Hohokam Peripheries are regions located outside the core area. Within these regions the basic period designations are retained, however local phases are often used to note significant differences. The cause of these differences and the range of cultural variability within the Hohokam Culture will be addressed below, however to some extent it represents communities influenced by their Anasazi and Mogollon neighbors.
Crop, agricultural skill and cultural refinements increased between AD 300 and AD 500 as the Hohokam acquired a new group of cultivated plants, presujnmably from trade with peoples in the area of modern Mexico. These new acquisitions included cotton, tepary, sieva and jack beans, cushaw and warty squash and pig weed. Engineering improved access to river water and canals were dug for irrigation. Evidence of trade networks include turquoise, shells from the Gulf of California and parrot bones from Central Mexico. Seeds and grains were prepared on stone manos and metates. Ceramics appeared shortly before AD 300, with pots of unembellished brown used for storage, cooking and as containers for cremated remains. Materials produced for ritual use included fired clay human and animal figures and incense burners.
Sedentary Period/Sacaton Phase (AD 950-1050/1150): Further population increase brought significant changes during this period. Irrigation canals and structures became larger and required more maintenance. More land came under cultivation, and amaranth was grown. House design evolved into post reinforced pit houses, covered with caliche adobe. Rancheria-like villages grew up around common courtyards, with evidence of increased communal activity. Large common ovens were used to cook bread and meats.
Crafts were dramatically refined. By about AD 1000, the Hohokam are credited with being the first culture to master acid etching. Artisans produced jewelry from shell, stone and bone and began to carve stone figures. Cotton textile work flourished. Red-on-buff pottery was widely produced.
This growth brought a need for increased organization and, perhaps, authority. The regional culture spread widely, extending from near the Mexican border to the Verde River in the north. There appears to be an elite class as well as an increase in social stature for the craftsman. Platform mounds similar to those in central Mexico appear. They may be associated with an upper class and have some religious function. Trade items from the Mexican heartland included copper bells, mosaics, stone mirrors and ornate birds like macaws.
This period can generally be considered a time of both growth and radical change. The community of Snaketown, once central to the culture, was suddenly abandoned. It seems that parts of this large village were burned, and thereafter it was never reoccupied. This period also witnessed the construction of large and prestigious structures in the Salt-Gila Basin. These included large rectangular adobe-walled compounds with platform mounds and Great Houses, such as the example found at the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. Additionally, evidence of Hohokam influence in a broader context decreased significantly.
This phase was initially proposed as part of the Gladwinian scheme, but recently has fallen out of favor with many Hohokam archaeologists. The primary reason for this view is that the Hohokam Buff Ware type once classified as Santan Red-on-buff is now listed as either a late form of Sacaton or Casa Grande red-on-buffs. The wide range of vessel forms used for decorated pottery was discarded for globular jars with necks, while overall there was a significant decrease in production and use of Hohokam Buff wares. There also was a radical decline in the procurement and trade of raw shell from northern Mexico and its manufacture into jewelry. Another trait of this phase was the transition from pithouses to pitrooms and the introduction of spherical spindle whorls similar to examples used in northern Mexico. Conceptually, this episode witnessed the relatively sudden and widespread abandonment or relocation of many hi
The diagnostic ceramic type for this phase was Casa Grande Red-on-buff. This Hohokam Buff Ware was characterized exclusively by jars with necks, decorated with a limited variety of geometric and textual designs. This pottery type appears to have been manufactured at several locals situated in the Gila River basin between Florence and Sacaton, Arizona. In general, this phase represents a major cultural retraction in terms of territory and two significant episodes of reorganization. The first reorganization occurred around AD 1150 and was typified by a modest increase in population and near universal adoption of pitroom architecture. These early pitrooms were built of perishable material covered with a thick adobe plaster, and the basal portion of the interior walls were often lined with upright slabs. Similar to the Preclassic Period villages these early Classic Period habitation structures were clustered around open courtyards. These courtyard groups were then clustered near a large central locus, which often included small platform mounds. These platform mounds were rectangular, faced by post-reinforced adobe walls, and were filled with either sterile soil or refuse from Preclassic trash mounds. In the largest villages the central locus included small platform mounds. The number of small- and medium-sized settlements seem to have declined as the larger communities became increasingly more densely occupied.
Although Casa Grande Red-on-buff continued to be produced, the pottery type that characterized this phase was Salado Polychrome, primarily Gila Polychrome. This ceramic type was either manufactured locally or procured as a trade ware. This phase also saw the introduction the comal, similar to examples found in northern Mexico, and the production of bird-shaped effigy vessels. Examples of exotic stone and shell artifacts associated with high-status individuals; such as nose plugs, pendants, ear rings, bracelets, necklaces, and sophisticated shell inlays, indicate that the design and manufacture of jewelry reached its zenith during this phase. Other important developments were the significant increased procurement and manufacture of Red ware, and the near universal use of inhumation burial in the area north of the Gila River, both similar to the practices and traditions utilized by the historic O'odham.
Immediately after AD 1300, Hohokam villages were reorganized along the lines experienced in the Lower Verde, Tonto Basin, and Safford Basin, in the 13th century. These compounds were composed a large rectangular exterior wall that either completely or more typically partially enclosed a series of contiguous courtyards and plazas delineated by interior partition walls. In turn each courtyard may contain one to as many as four large rectangular abode-walled pitrooms, possible associated with several utility structures. Overall these communities were characterized by relatively compact clusters of between five and 25 adobe-walled compounds, which tended to be grouped around a single very large and well built compound that often had some form of large community structure, such as a platform mound or Great House. Great House structures, as with the one preserved at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, were built only at the largest communities. These stone or adobe buildings had up to four stories, and were probably used by the managerial or religious elites. They may have also been constructed to align with astronomical observations. Trade with Mexico appears to have declined, but an increased number of trade goods arrived from Pueblo peoples in the north and the east.
Between AD 1350 and 1375, the Hohokam tradition loses vitality, stability, and many of the largest settlements were abandoned. It appears rapidly changing climatic conditions substantially impacted the Hohokam agricultural base and subsequently prevent the cohesion of their large communities. Repeated floods in the middle 14th century significantly down cut the Salt River bed while destroying canal heads which required their continuous extension upstream. Soon thereafter additional flooding removed irreplaceable segments of these extensions, which effectively rendered hundreds of miles of canals virtually useless. Because of its hydrology and geomorphology, these processes had a lesser impact on the irrigation systems used by the Hohokam in the Gila River basin, yet these were abandoned as well.
This phase is characterized by the widespread use and manufacture of Salado Polychrome, with both Gila and Tonto polychromes. After AD 1375, the Hohokam abandoned the villages and canal systems within the lower Salt River basin. This area continued to be occupied, albeit on a far smaller scale. Meanwhile, the very few villages that remained were quite small, were concentrated along the Gila River, with the notable exception of the lower Queen Creek drainage. Conceptually, this episode is extremely relevant and of great historic importance as it represents the immediate aftermath of the Hohokam cultural collapse and in part signifies a critical stage in the ethnogenesis of the modern O'odham.
When making use of modern cultural divisions in the Southwest, it is important to understand three specific limitations in the current conventions:
Snaketown was the archetypical Preclassic Period settlement and preeminent community centered within the core of the Hohokam culture area. Today Snaketown is situated within the Hohokam Pima National Monument, located near Santan, Arizona, which was authorized by Congress on October 21, 1972. Excavations conducted in the 1930s and again in the 1960s revealed that the site was inhabited from about 300 BC to AD 1050. At its height in the early 11th century, Snaketown was both the center of the Hohokam culture and the production of the distinctive Hohokam Buff Ware. Following the last excavations conducted by Emil Haury, the site was completely recovered with earth, leaving nothing visible above ground.
Overall, Snaketown boasted two ball courts, numerous trash mounds, a small ceremonial mound, a large central plaza, several large community houses, hundreds of residential pithouses, and may have been home to at least several thousand people. After Snaketown was abandoned several minor settlements were founded within the general vicinity and continued to be occupied until the early 14th century AD. Currently, the Hohokam Pima National Monument is located on Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) land and is under tribal ownership. It covers nearly 1700 acres (6.9 km²) and the GRIC has decided not to open this extremely sensitive prehistoric site to the public.
Altogether, the greater Grewe-Casa Grande Site represented the largest Hohokam community located within the middle Gila River valley. Situated between two primary canals (on the north Canal Casa Grande and to the south Canal Coolidge) over time this community was recorded as several separate archaeological sites. These include the Casa Grande, Grewe, Vahki Inn Village, and Horvath sites. Occupied in the Preclassic and Classic periods, each of these sites was composed of between two and 20 large residential areas. Overall, the greater Grewe-Casa Grande Archaeological Site covered approximately , centered on State Route 87 and immediately north of the modern city of Coolidge, Arizona.
Inherently, the attention of most is initially drawn to the four-story Great House found near the center of the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. Akimel O’odham oral tradition records that prior to the arrival of the Sto'am O’odham, or ‘Coyote People,’ this massive structure was built by an important personage called, Sial Teu-utak Sivan, (Morning-Green Leader) or ‘Chief Turquoise.’ In the O’odham language the Great House and the associated prehistoric ruins found north of Coolidge were collectively referred to as Sivan Vah'Ki, literally meaning the ‘Abandoned House,' or 'Village of the Ruler,’ respectively. As Frank Russell recorded in the early twentieth century, several O’odham oral traditions note that Sial Teu-utak was an important leader of the Casa Grande community, before the overthrow of the Suwu'Ki O’odham, or 'Vulture People.' Eusebio Francesco Chini (Father Kino) arrived in the middle Gila River valley in 1694 to find the monumental Great House abandoned and already in a state of decay and decomposition. Despite its condition, he and later Jesuit missionaries, saw fit to use the ruined Great House to hold mass, between the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Adolph Bandelier provided one of the first detailed archaeological maps and descriptions of Classic Period architecture at the central locus, or Compound A, of the Casa Grande Site, in 1884. Jesse Walter Fewkes and Cosmos Mindeleff made further descriptions of this area. Between 1906 and 1912 Fewkes conduced excavations and stabilization of this portion of the site. In 1927 Harold Gladwin excavated stratified tests of several trash mounds at both the Grewe and Casa Grande sites. He also defined and excavated portions of Sacaton 9:6 (GP), an adobe-walled compound situated on the extreme edge of the Casa Grande Site, east of State Route 87, near the current entrance to the Monument. Relatively large scale excavations were carried out between 1930 and 1931, by Van Bergen-Los Angeles Museum Expedition under the direction of Arthur Woodward and Irwin Hayden. This project concentrated on a 30 acre parcel at the Grewe Site, and Compound F located within the northeast corner of the Casa Grande National Monument. Overall, including the recovery of 172 burials and hundreds of thousands of artifacts; about 60 pithouses, numerous pits, 27 adobe pitrooms, and a ballcourt were excavated or tested during the course of this project.
Additional excavations were performed in the southeast corner of the Monument by the Civil Works Administration directed by Russell Hastings in 1933 and 1934. The excavation of 15 pithouses, 3 pits, 32 burials, and portions of four trash mounds demonstrated the presence of significantly large late Preclassic and early Classic period components within the area covered by the Monument. Yet, by far the largest and most comprehensive archaeological endeavor was conduct by Northland Research Inc., from 1995 to 1997, on a 13 acre parcel within portions of the Casa Grande, Grewe, and Horvath sites that paralleled State Route 87 and 287. This project was directed by Douglass Craig and resulted in the identification and/or excavation of 247 pithouses, 24 pitrooms, 866 pits, 11 canal alignments, a ballcourt, and portions of four adobe-walled compounds; as well as the recovery of 158 burials and over 400,000 artifacts.
Based on the results of these projects, the history of the greater Grewe-Casa Grande Site can be reconstructed with at least some degree of precision. The genesis of this important village appears to have been associated with several groups of pithouses organized around a series of relatively small circular plazas. These appear to date to the 6th century AD and were located along and immediately upslope of the Coolidge Canal system. By the 8th century AD, this dispersed hamlet had expanded nearly a kilometer south and developed into a full-fledged village. At this point the settlement consisted of densely packed yet discrete groups of pithouses clustered around small open courtyards. In turn these structures delineated a large central plaza. Adjoining the plaza was a medium-sized ballcourt, and overall the village was affiliated with several smaller outlaying settlements.
In the 10th century the settlement experienced the foundation of at least two large secondary villages and about a dozen new hamlets, to the west of the main settlement. With the abandonment of Snaketown and the transition from the Preclassic to Classic periods the greater Grewe-Casa Grande community became one of the largest and most important Hohokam population centers. At its height the Grewe-Casa Grande village boosted about 100 trash mounds, several hundred residential pithouses, and four or five ballcourts. Regardless of its size, complexity, and significance along the middle Gila River, this settlement never seemed to have attained the status enjoyed by Snaketown, as it pertained to the Hohokam Culture, per se. As the western portion of this settlement grew, large sections of the eastern half declined and were abandoned. By the AD 1300, the village was composed of about 19 adobe-walled residential compounds, several pitroom clusters, a platform mound, a great house, and numerous trash mounds. With most of the village contained within what is now the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, after the middle of the 14th century it began a rapid decline. Around AD 1400 or 1450 the entire settlement was abandoned, except for a low-scale occupation associated with the Polvoron Phase.
Today, about 60 percent of the Grewe-Casa Grande Site has been either destroyed due to agricultural and commercial development, excavated, or remains relatively intact buried under fields used to grow cotton. Approximately 40 percent of this once huge settlement can be found within the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, which was established as the nation’s first archeological reserve in 1892, and declared a National Monument in 1918. Visitors can enjoy an interpretative center, walk among the stabilized ruins of Compound A, and closely view the Great House, which has been protected from the elements by a distinctively modern looking roof, since 1932.
Pueblo Grande Museum and Cultural Park near central Phoenix contains preserved ruins and artifact exhibits. Archaeological finds have been recorded along the track of the adjacent Valley Metro light rail construction.
The Mesa Grande Ruin, located in Mesa, Arizona, represents another large Hohokam village that was occupied both in the Preclassic and Classic periods, from approximately AD 200 to 1450. Although this settlement appears to have been very important, it has witnessed little archaeological work, other than the mapping and stabilization projects conducted by the Southwest Archaeology Team (SWAT). The SWAT’s indispensable volunteer-work at the Mesa Grande Ruin began in the middle 1990s and continues today.
At its peak in the late Preclassic and early Classic periods this settlement may have consisted of as many as twenty discrete residential areas and covered several hundred acres. Today, due to massive urban development the surface remains of the village have been reduced to a small parcel situated immediately west of the Mesa Hospital. Within this plot are the ruins of a large adobe compound and a nine meter high relatively intact platform mound. This is only one of the last three remaining Hohokam platform mounds in the greater Phoenix metro area. This parcel was transferred into public ownership in the mid-1980s, therefore the compound and mound were not destroyed, yet the City of Mesa has yet to fund any property upgrades, with the exception of a new fence. As of August 2007 this important prehistoric ruin remained on the Arizona Preservation Foundation's list of Most Endangered Historic Places due to benign neglect.
Located within the modern city of Tempe, Arizona, the Hohokam settlement of Los Hornos (from the Spanish los hornos, meaning 'the ovens') was initially investigated by Frank Cushing in 1887. With urban expansion additional excavations were conducted in the 1970s, late 1980s, and throughout the 1990s. The results of these comprehensive archaeological projects have documented both a large Preclassic and Classic period village organized much the same as Snaketown and Pueblo Grande respectively, yet on a somewhat smaller scale. Los Hornos appears to have started around AD 400, as a small cluster of rectangular pithouses situated on the extreme western edge of the site, west of Priest Dr and south of US 60.
Over time the Los Hornos settlement expanded along series of large secondary canals to the east and southeast. At the height of the Preclassic occupation in the Sacaton Phase, which was contemporary with the zenith of Snaketown, this settlement had one large ball court, a large central plaza, several formal cremation cemeteries, numerous trash mounds, and several hundred residential pithouses. The detailed excavation of 50 Preclassic Period pithouses in the area located immediately south of US 60 and east of Priest Dr, provided invaluable information concerning residential architecture and the functional use of interior space. Additional information concerning the Archaeological Consulting Services Ltd. excavation of a Preclassic occupation at Los Hornos can be found at the following site: .
After a short period of population loss and community reorganization in the late 11th and early 12th centuries AD, Los Hornos continued to shift east and south in the Classic Period. This large village appears to have recovered somewhat and again became an important settlement late in the Soho or early in the Civano phase, between AD 1277 to 1325. At this time Los Hornos, now centered on Hardy Dr south of US 60 and north of Baseline Road, consisted of about 15 residential compounds, a large central plaza, a large rectangular platform mound with an associated compound, several large trash mounds, as well as numerous borrow pits and inhumation and cremation cemeteries.
Prior to the middle of the 14th century AD, with the rise of Los Muertos located several miles to the south and east, the Los Hornos community appears to have spiraled into a precipitous decline. Although greatly reduced in scale and importance the settlement continued to be occupied until it was effectively abandoned between AD 1400 and 1450 as was much of the Lower Salt River basin. Today much of the Los Hornos village has been destroyed due to modern transportation, residential, and commercial development, or has been excavated. The only surface vestiges of this once significant Hohokam settlement are the remains of several low trash mounds found in the Old Guadalupe Village Cemetery.