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2.7 Hohokam Indians

Around 300 BC the Hohokam Indians began farming in the Gila and Salt Valleys of present day Arizona. They began planting beans and corn in the same fields and with the same techniques as in Mexico. They lived in small villages with oblong pit houses. They made smooth pottery and built irrigation canal in the best tradition of the Mesoamerican culture. In about 1AD the Hohokans began an irrigation farming system. Around 350 AD they improved their technique and they built great irrigation canals and multi-storey pueblo buildings. They lived in Snaketown, Arizona, until 1100 AD.

By 500 AD the Hohokams had invented a ball game similar to that played in Mesoamerica.

The first settlers arrived on the Red River site of Spiro, Oklahoma, in 600 AD. They built beautiful truncated pyramids of earth around ceremonial plazas and burial mounds with sculptures, textiles and ornaments. Their descendants are the Caddo Indians.

By 750 the Hohokam’s culture had spread from Central Arizona up to the Verde and Agua Fria Rivers as far north as Flagstaff. This expansion was made possible by efficient irrigation and agricultural techniques that produced large quantity of food allowing the population to grow. This expansion lasted until 1,300. The Hohokams are believed to be the ancestors of the Pima and Papago.

Phoenix, Arizona, was settled about 300 BC and expanded greatly around 800 AD. It is in the Sonora desert at the confluence of three rivers: the Salt, Verde and Gila. Due to its average of 300 days of sunshine per year, agriculture was always rewarding there. The Hohokam built hundred of miles of irrigation canals to produce maize, beans, squash and cotton. They also build multi-room pueblo houses whose ruins can still be seen in Phoenix. In Casa Grande, a late Hohokam settlement, a massive four story high building (the Great House) with 11 rooms and walls up to five feet thick was erected for no-known reason in 1200. Snaketown, another Hohokam settlement was a busy trading centre with Mesoamerica, the Mogollon and the Anasazi. Hohokam invented etching –which they made on shells- three hundred years before the technique was known in Europe. They had nice pottery, stone bowls, copper bells, mirrors and ball courts similar to those found in Mesoamerican sites. Hohokam culture reached its peak around 1125 but by 1350 the irrigation canals and fields were abandoned for no known reason. It could be due to a drop in the height of the water table, a long lasting drought, salinisation of the soil or the collapse of the supporting Toltec civilisation. Phoenix was settled again in 1867 when the old irrigation canals were found and still working.

Apache raiders destroyed Casa Grande, the last Hohokam settlement, in 1398.

Hohokam is one of the four major prehistoric archaeological traditions of what is now the American Southwest. 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.

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