The Hohokam Culture
The Hohokam were a farming people who lived in central and southern Arizona and northern Mexico from approximately A.D. 1 to 1450. Their name comes from the Pima Indian (Akimel O'odham) word for "those who have gone" or "all used up." A creative and industrious people, the Hohokam turned the arid desert of the Salt and Gila river valleys and other areas of southern Arizona into lush green farmlands and thriving villages. One of those villages is the site of Pueblo Grande, preserved as a city of Phoenix museum and archaeological park.
Ruins containing the Hohokam's characteristic red-on-buff pottery are scattered over an area of at least 27,000 square miles (69,930 sq. km), but are most frequent in the Salt River Valley and the nearby Gila River Valley. These desert farmers are admired for their lengthy occupation of the Sonoran Desert and their impressive cultural accomplishments in architecture, crafts and irrigation agriculture. In addition, the Hohokam were active in trade networks with other prehistoric cultures that stretched across the entire Southwest, into Mexico and to the Pacific Coast. However, where did the Hohokam come from?
The origin of the Hohokam culture still is debated among archaeologists. It was once theorized that the Hohokam were Mesoamerican immigrants or traders who came north into south-central Arizona out of Mexico. Although there is little doubt that Mexican cultures influenced the Hohokam, many archaeologists today argue that the Hohokam culture arose out of local hunting and gathering groups of the Desert Archaic culture who had lived in the Southwest since around 7000 B.C. Because the Hohokam were well-adapted to the challenges of the Sonoran Desert environment, and many material cultural similarities with the Desert Archaic remained part of the Hohokam culture for generations, it seems unlikely that they immigrated from elsewhere. In essence, the Hohokam culture can be seen as a new culture emerging out of their Archaic predecessors.
Around 1500 B.C., knowledge of agriculture spread into the Southwest out of Mexico where farming was already well developed for thousands of years. Crops included corn (maize), beans, squash and cotton. With this knowledge of farming, the ancestors of the Hohokam, hunters and gatherers who once had moved across the landscape with the seasons, settled down into permanent villages and began practicing agriculture in the desert.
Besides the knowledge of agriculture, other ideas also traveled north out of Mexico and influenced the Hohokam. From Mexican cultures, the Hohokam may have learned ceramic manufacturing techniques and borrowed elements of their religious ideology.
Yet who were the Hohokam people? Did they all speak the same language? Were they a single group of people who spread out to colonize the desert or were they several different ethnic groups who shared many cultural traits? From the archaeological record, the answers to these questions are uncertain.
Archaeologists have little way of knowing if the Hohokam were a single ethnic group with a single language. It may be that the Hohokam did not all have the same ethnic background but were a people who shared a common material culture, language(s), ideology and general lifestyle.