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.
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.
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.
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.
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.