The most common type of artifact indicative of the Hohokam culture is their pottery. Pottery was manufactured from local clays mixed with sand, crushed rock and other temper to prevent clay from cracking and breaking during the firing process. Hohokam pottery was generally of three types: plain, red and the widely known red-on-buff decorated wares. Pottery also occurred in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, including jars, bowls, pitchers, scoops, and plates. Sizes of vessels ranged from miniatures to large jars, called ollas, some of which could store enormous amounts of water (25 gallons [95.4 l] or more). The Hohokam decorated their pottery with a multitude of designs. many of the designs were geometric, but the Hohokam also used representations of animals as well as humans.
Hohokam pottery vessel technology most likely developed when increased dependence on agriculture necessitated the production of watertight, pest-resistant containers for storage, and thermal-shock resistant pots for cooking foods directly over fire. In building a temporal chronology for Hohokam cultural sequence, archaeologists have often relied on ever changing pottery styles. Changes in Hohokam pottery styles were mostly in decoration (ie., color of paint and slip), although some changes occurred in the manufacturing process as well. Recently, archaeologists have been studying the types and sources of temper in Hohokam plainware pottery to better understand exchange relationships among Hohokam villages.
Current data indicate that Hohokam plainware pottery was produced by A.D. 1, and continued to be crafted throughout the Hohokam occupation of the Sonoran Desert. Redware pottery was first made sometime after A.D. 400, and the first painted pottery, red-on-gray (predecessor to red-on-buff), was manufactured ca. A.D. 650. By the Colonial period (ca. A.D. 750), the Hohokam were creating beautifully painted vessels. Pottery was decorated with red paint over the buff colored slip, or thin outer clay covering. Colonial period red-on-buff pottery was expertly crafted and artistically decorated with a myriad of geometric designs as well as images of humans, mammals, reptiles, fish, birds, and even flowers.
Late Pioneer and Colonial period potters also incised a series of parallel encircling grooves on the outside of the vessel on top of the painted designs. Colonial period pottery recovered from Hohokam sites, including Pueblo Grande, is painted with decorations which depict human figures performing various activities. Humans hold hands and dance, hunched figures with tumplines around their foreheads carry burden-baskets on their backs, plumed hunch-backed flute players (which may represent the mythical Kokopelli) play music, and humans hold bows and arrows that face animals such as big horn sheep and deer. All were masterfully painted with red lines on buff backgrounds ceramic pots. Other pottery depicts creatures from the natural environment of the Hohokam, and all are set in fluid motion by the artist. Schools of fish swim, dogs or coyotes stand alert with heads up and tails raised, coiled rattlesnakes are ready to strike, turtles crawl, flocks of birds fly, and water birds hold fish in their beaks.
During the Sedentary period (ca. A.D. 900-1150), pottery vessels may have been mass produced, suggesting an increasing importance on quantity of production. By the 12th century, the quality of Hohokam red-on-buff pottery had deteriorated considerably, showing the decline of a long ceramic tradition. At this same time, Hohokam potters developed their skills in making polished redware ceramics in a variety of pleasing shapes and sizes. Redware vessels were especially favored as funerary accompaniments, and may have been traded between villages. In addition, the Classic period Hohokam imported and imitated relatively large quantities of polychrome vessels, ie., black, white, and red colors) from the Salado cultures to the east in the Tonto Basin. These changes in pottery styles coincide with a general change in Hohokam culture during the Classic period.
Effigies and Figurines
Another form of artistic expression of the Hohokam was the manufacturing of clay and stone effigies and figurines. The first ceramic effigies in the Southwest were manufactured in the desert Archaic period around 800 B.C. Hohokam effigies included humans as well as animals.
Anthropomorphic or human effigies, both male and female, were made in many forms and show important details about the Hohokam people. Figurines often have body decorations, including body paint, and show clothing styles, all of which may be renditions of actual Hohokam people. Other figurines wear what appear to be arm and shoulder pads and may represent Hohokam ballplayers.
Zoomorphic effigies consist of animals found within the Hohokam environment such as dogs, mountain sheep, and deer. A cache of seven ceramic dog effigies was found on a Sedentary period (A.D. 900-1150) pithouse floor at Pueblo Grande. Human and animal effigies may have been merely an outlet for artistic expression, or more likely had religious or ceremonial significance.