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HOHOKAM is the name given by archaeologists to a prehistoric culture centered along the Salt, Gila, Verde, and Santa Cruz Rivers in the low, hot Sonoran desert of southern Arizona between approximately 300 b.c. and a.d. 1450. The name Hohokam means "those who have gone" in the language of the O'odham, the contemporary Native American inhabitants of southern Arizona. The Hohokam cultural sequence initially was defined at the site of Snaketown in the lower Gila Valley southeast of Phoenix, by the early twentieth century archaeologists Harold Gladwin and Emil Haury. Since the 1980s, knowledge of the Hohokams has greatly expanded as a result of cultural resource management archaeology projects conducted in the Phoenix and Tucson basins. Hohokam chronology is subdivided into four periods: Pioneer (a.d. 300–775), Colonial (a.d. 775–975), Sedentary (a.d. 975–1150), and Classic (a.d. 1150–1350). The Red Mountain phase predates the Pioneer period, and the El Polvoron phase post-dates the Classic period.

By the beginning of the first millennium a.d., prehistoric hunters and gatherers in southern Arizona had begun to experiment with agriculture and to settle in small villages along the major river systems. The Hohokam culture emerged from this substrate. During the Preclassic (Pioneer, Colonial, and Sedentary phases), the Hohokams lived in semi-subterranean pit house villages. Houses were clustered together around courtyards with associated work areas, trash mounds, and cemeteries. Public architecture included ball courts and mounds capped with caliche. The Hohokams grew maize, squash, cotton, beans, agave, and tobacco. They built extensive networks of irrigation canals along the Salt and Gila Rivers. They produced buff, brown, and red-painted pottery using the paddle-and-anvil technique. Frogs, lizards, birds, and other animals were commonly depicted on pottery as well as in shell and stone. Exotic artifacts of the Hohokams include: groundstone palettes, bowls, and figurines; baked-clay figurines; carved and acid-etched Pacific marine shell jewelry; iron pyrite mirrors; and turquoise mosaics. The Hohokams cremated their dead and sometimes placed the remains inside ceramic vessels. The Preclassic reached its zenith during the Sedentary phase, when Hohokam culture extended from northern Mexico in the south to Flagstaff, Arizona, in the north. Mexican influences are seen in the presence of ball courts, copper bells made using the lost-wax casting technique, macaws, and cotton textiles.

Changes in settlement patterns, architecture, ceramics, burial practices, and trade relations occurred during the Classic period. Ball courts were no longer constructed. Aboveground adobe houses were grouped into walled compounds surrounding rectangular, earthen platform mounds. Platform mounds were built at regular intervals along river and irrigation canal systems, suggesting these sites were administrative centers allocating water and coordinating canal labor. Polychrome pottery appeared, and inhumation burial replaced cremation. Shell and other exotic trade continued, but on a smaller scale than during the Preclassic. Social and climatic factors led to a decline and partial abandonment of the area after a.d. 1400. During the Postclassic El Polvoron phase, people lived in dispersed "ranch"-style villages of shallow pit houses. Large-scale irrigation systems were abandoned, and farming was replaced by a mixed subsistence strategy.


Gumerman, George J., ed. Exploring the Hohokam: Prehistoric Desert Peoples of the American Southwest. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1991.

Haury, Emil W. The Hohokam, Desert Farmers and Craftsmen: Excavations at Snaketown 1964–1965. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1976.

Reid, Jefferson, and Stephanie Whittlesey. The Archaeology of Ancient Arizona. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1997.

Ruth M.Van Dyke

See alsoAncestral Pueblo (Anasazi) .