Jan 112015
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Hohokam history at Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park


Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park in Phoenix, Arizona is situated on a 1,500 year-old site left by the Hohokam culture. Its website invites you to explore the ancient heart of Phoenix.

Pueblo Grande began as a small settlement around AD 450 and grew to over 1500 people. It was one of the largest Hohokam settlements in the area. Today, the Museum provides information about the Hohokam people and their culture. Outside the Museum building, a trail guides visitors through the ruins of an ancient Hohokam settlement.

Pueblo Grande

Drawing inside the museum depicting the ancient Pueblo Grande settlement

The Hohokam cultivated many plant species, including maize, cotton, squash, amaranth, little barley, and beans. Unlike today, The Salt River ran year round during Hohokam days. But the arid desert environment did not produce enough rainfall to grow crops. The Hohokam built over one thousand miles of canals and engineered the largest and most sophisticated irrigation system in the Americas, no small feat when you consider the primitive tools they had at their disposal. 

Pueblo Grande was built at the headwaters of a major canal system. It is believed that mound villages like Pueblo Grande acted as an administrative system for the oversight of canal maintenance, water distribution, and ceremonial activities. 

Mound villages, of which there were over 50 in the Salt River Valley, are called that because of the platform mounds at their centre. The mounds were urban centres with large open plazas where ceremonies might have been performed. Pueblo Grande also included residential “suburbs”, astronomical observation facilities, waste disposal facilities, and ball courts.

Pueblo Grande remains

Remains of the platform mound at Pueblo Grande
(Mounds were first built with trash or soil and capped with caliche,
a lime-rich soil found in the desert which makes a good plaster when mixed with water.)


Pueblo Grande special rooms

Artifacts found inside these rooms, such as carved shell and wood, an axe, red and purple
pigments and an animal effigy, suggest these rooms were used for special purposes.


Pueblo Grande solstice room

Remains of solstice room

At summer solstice sunrise and winter solstice sunset, the sun’s rays passed through the corner door and onto another door in the middle of the south wall. Some researchers think the room may have been used as a calendar.

Hohokam houses were built in clusters facing a common courtyard. The first houses were pithouses with floors dug into the ground, a wooden frame, and an earthen outer shell. After AD 1150 the adobe compound became more prevalent. Caliche was mixed with earth and water to make adobe walls. Roofs were made of wood and a caliche plaster covered the floor. Replicas of both style of houses are on display at Pueblo Grande. Because of modern building standards, walls and doorways are taller than in the ancient homes.


Pithouse replica

Pithouse replica


Adobe compound replica

Adobe compound replica


Hohokam oven

Hohokam oven – most of cooking was done outdoors


Hohokam mortar and pestle

Hohokam basalt mortar and pestle used to grind mesquite pods into flour.
(This method would take a lot longer than the modern blender method demonstrated when I learned about Cooking With Mesquite)


Hohokam ball court

Ball court


Hohokam ball game

Balls that may have been used in the ball court

A sign on the trail explains how you move back in time as you wind your way around the ruins. Pueble Grande is not far from downtown Phoenix. The buildings around it, the freeway, and the sounds of planes landing at and taking off from nearby Sky Harbor Airport make an interesting juxtaposition with the ancient feeling of the mound.

Indian market

An Indian Market was set up in the parking lot on the day I visited.
It featured Indian artisans, cultural demonstrations, activities, and entertainment.


Hohokam pottery

A collection of Hohokam pottery on display in the museum


Indian pottery

Modern pottery at the Indian Market


native jewelry then and now

Hohokam jewelry on display at museum, modern jewelry at Indian Market


Indian market

More images from the Indian Market

Hohokam villages were abandoned by AD 1450. Subsequently O’odham peoples inhabited the Sonoran desert region. The word Hohokam comes from the Akimel O’odham (Pima) term for “those who have gone”.

What happened to the Hohokam? It remains a bit of a mystery. Some archaeologists believe environmental catastrophes seriously affected agricultural production. Akimel O’odham oral histories indicate conflicts between groups may have contributed to the area’s abandonment. Perhaps an influx to the area made population levels too hard to sustain.

Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park is at 4619 E. Washington Street in Phoenix. It is open daily. Check the website for hours.

PIN ITPueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park, Phoenix, Arizona

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  26 Responses to “Ancient Heart of Phoenix”

  1. Very interesting and informative! I have never heard of the Hohokam! But this looks like an interesting trip and so close to Phoenix! And the pictures say so much about Pueblo Grande! It made me smile to see those balls…we never think of ancient peoples as playful, do we?

    • I guess we don’t often think of ancient peoples as playful, but the museum paints a picture of a very rich culture. It’s interesting to me how the archaeologists figure out what ancient life was like.

  2. Hi donna; thanks for an interesting journey back in time even if you did have to ignore highway and aircraft noises. bet this post is even better for those who can see the images. sounds like you had fun and got lots of great photos. thanks for sharing, max

  3. Hi Donna. We have been to this, too….sometime in 2012. After visiting so many ruins around the Southest, finding one right in the middle of a big city was a big surprise! Thanks for writing about it in detail. I missed some stuff!

  4. The Pueblo Grande settlement looks like a fascinating place to visit. I imagine it must have been a scorching place to live though.

  5. Such an amazing place so close to Phoenix proper. Loved the juxtaposition of the ancient and modern pottery in this post.

  6. What a fascinating site! Thanks for introducing me to the Hohokam~

  7. Thanks for this very interesting post! We love learning about ancient cultures and exploring the ruins as well as seeing the artifacts. The Hohokam seem to have been very advanced with their canal systems and water conservation practices as well as mathematics and keeping a calendar. P.S. Don’t you love saying Hohokam?

    • Yes Anita – it is a fun word to say. The Hohokam do appear to have been quite a sophisticated culture. Many of us don’t think about that kind of ancient sophistication existing in the U.S.

  8. We may be headed to Phoenix later this winter so that’s great to know about. We love ancient sites.

  9. Thank you Donna For this interesting post.
    I love learning about ancient culture

  10. I enjoy visiting pueblos. I’ve added Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park in Phoenix to my to-do list. One of my favorite pueblo visits was to the Acoma tribe in Sky City, New Mexico, http://berkeleyandbeyond.com/Way-Beyond/Travel-Articles/U_S_A_/Acoma-Indian-Res/acoma-indian-res.html

  11. Donna, You have written and photographed some of the most interesting places in Arizona. Keep ’em coming. I love these reports of yours.

  12. Such an interesting post Donna about a rich culture that I was totally unfamiliar with. I wonder how heavy those balls were! It’s fascinating to think about how they kept time and used a calendar so many years ago.

    • It is fascinating to learn about the richness of this ancient culture. The balls were behind glass and I don’t recall any signs indicating how much they weighted. They didn’t look light.

  13. How have I missed this in all my visits to Phoenix? I’ve actually been to Casa Grande ruins about an hour out of Phoenix, but somehow overlooked Pueblo Grande right within the city. Both the history and mystery of the Hohokam are very interesting. Thanks for the tour of the museum,

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