Hohokam Culture

By Caitlyn Carrillo

The Hohokam were a prehistoric people, who lived in the southern desert regions of what is now Arizona.  Remnants of the Hohokam culture are found in the Southwest Culture Area.  Anthropologists and archaeologists use culture areas to differentiate geographical regions based on cultural similarities.[1]  Developing a chronology for the Hohokam has proven quite a difficult task for scholars. There is disagreement among social scientists as to whether or not the modern Tohono O’odham, Hia C’ed O’odham, and the Akimel O’odham descend  from the Hohokam culture. Some scholars favor the descendant theory, while others believe that a hiatus occurred in between the ancient Hohokam occupation of the region and that of the more recent tribes.[2] Regardless, the Tohono O’odham, Hia C’ed O’odham, and the Akimel O’odham tribes still claim the Hohokam as their ancestors.[3]

Hohokam culture has been traced back to what archaeologists have named the Ceramic Period, which is believed to have begun circa 200 A.D. As the name suggests, this time period is distinguished by the mass production of pottery. The ceramics that were produced during this period are regionally differentiated.[4] A ceramic’s color and the method used to make it can indicate which culture produced the piece. The Hohokam peoples used the paddle-and-anvil method to create their red or buff colored ceramics.[5] The paddle-and-anvil technique employed a paddle and a stone or another ceramic surface to help shape the clay. The stone or ceramic piece would be placed on the interior of the clay while the paddle would be used to strike the clay surface on its corresponding exterior surface. [6]  Hohokam ceramics are distinguishable by the geometric, animal, and human forms that decorate the pottery. Archaeologists have also found jewelry at Hohokam culture sites. The jewelry is usually made from shells or other materials that can be traced back to the Gulf of California.[7]

To survive in the desert, the Hohokam developed sophisticated farming practices. Aridity made them reliant on water sources such as the Salt and Gila rivers.[8] With an elaborate system of irrigation canals, the Hohokam watered crops such as squash, agave, beans, and corn.[9] Fence-like brush weirs would be used to maneuver floodwater into a ditch that led to the Hohokam’s fields. These fields, also called akchin fields, would be placed in a natural floodplain, when the area would flood the field would be watered.[10] As farmers, the Hohokam were mostly sedentary, living in pithouses. Today, these houses are found in clusters with some evidence of villages.[11]

The Hohokam culture is important to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument because the archaeological sites that have been attributed to this culture aided in the preservation of the region. When the area was surveyed in the late 1930s, the material artifacts left behind from the Hohokam culture warranted further study of the area. The original survey team identified ten sites that could potentially aid in creating a historical narrative for the prehistory of the area.[12] In addition, the Hohokam culture proved that a people could flourish in this hot desert region. Thus, their story is an important element of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument’s history.

Further Reading:

Logan Museum of Anthropology.  “Hohokam.” Beloit College.http://www.beloit.edu/logan_online/exhibitions/virtual_exhibitions/north_america/southwest/hohokam/hohkam.php (accessed February 13, 2012).

“The Hohokam Indians.” Hohokam Hiking.http://www.hohokamhiking.com/indian-tribes/hohokam.php (accessed February 13, 2012).

Gregonis, Linda M. and Karl J. Reinhard. Hohokam Indians of the Tucson Basin. Tucson:University of Arizona Press, 1979.


[1] Sarah W. Neusius and G. Timothy Gross, Seeking Our Past: An Introduction to North American Archaeology (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 5.

[2] Ibid., 378.

[3] “The Hohokam,” Tempe History Museum, http://www.tempe.gov/museum/Tempe_history/basics/hohokam.htm (accessed February 13, 2012).

[4] Richard S. Felger and Bill Broyles, Dry Borders: Great Natural Reserves of the Sonoran Desert (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2007), 130.

[5] Neusius and Gross, Seeking Our Past, 375.

[6] “Paddle-and-Anvil,” The Adventures of Archaeology Wordsmith, http://www.archaeologywordsmith.com/lookup.php?category=&where=headword&terms=anvil (accessed February 14, 2012).

[7] Sarah W. Neusius and G. Timothy Gross, Seeking Our Past: An Introduction to North American Archaeology (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 378.

[8] Ibid., 378.

[9] “The Hohokam,” Tempe History Museum, http://www.tempe.gov/museum/Tempe_history/basics/hohokam.htm (accessed February 13, 2012).

[10] Gary P. Nabhan, “Cultural Adaptations to the Desert’s Bounty,” http://www.desertmuseum.org/members/sonorensis/week6.php?print=y (accessed February 13, 2012).

[11] Sarah W. Neusius and G. Timothy Gross, Seeking Our Past: An Introduction to North American Archaeology (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 380.

[12] U.S. Department of the Interior. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument: Historical and Archaeological Aspects of Organ Pipe Cactus national Monument, July 1939.

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