As with other cultures, the Hohokam traded for items not readily available to them. The Hohokam trade network was vast and stretched from Mexico to Utah, from the Pacific Coast to New Mexico, and into the Great Plains. The Hohokam traded for a number of raw materials and finished craft products, and may have obtained these items by trading their cotton, surplus crops, and their shell jewelry. Hohokam ceramics have been found at many non-Hohokam sites in small quantities. Hohokam vessels themselves, however, do not appear to have been popular trade items, but may have contained food or other desirable materials.
A Flow of Goods
The Hohokam traded shell obtained from two different locations: warm-water shells from the Gulf of California and cold-water shells from the Pacific Coast (e.g., abalone). Upon obtaining these shells, either through trade or by collecting the shells themselves during long distance trips, the Hohokam created beautiful ornaments which they used for their own personal adornment and also as trade items. Hohokam shell jewelry, especially carved bracelets and arm bands, has been found in numerous sites occupied by neighboring cultures.
Other items the Hohokam people traded for included turquoise, obsidian, argillite, steatite, and other minerals, as well as a multitude of foreign pottery types. At Pueblo Grande, more than 50 types of imported ceramic wares have been recovered during excavation. This pottery was imported throughout Pueblo Grande's occupation and came from at least five different cultural regions reaching out in all four cardinal directions: the Anasazi (prehistoric Pueblo) and Hopi in northern Arizona, the Prescott area to the northwest, the Mogollon and Mimbres to the east, the lower Colorado River to the west, the Tucson Basin to the south, the Trincheras region of northern Sonora, Mexico, and Casas Grandes to the southeast in northern Chihuahua, Mexico. Interestingly, most of the imported pottery types were small bowls, possibly because bowls could be stacked and were therefore less likely to break during transport.
From Mexico the Hohokam also obtained macaws, obsidian, pyrite mirrors and copper bells. They did not have the knowledge to make metal ornaments and tools; therefore, copper bells must have been very valuable trade items. At Snaketown, a Sedentary period (A.D. 900-1150) pithouse contained 28 copper bells, which may have been strung together. Copper bells have also been found at several Hohokam sites along the Salt River such as Pueblo Grande, Cashion, La Ciudad, and Los Hornos.
The Hohokam also traded for macaws and parrots. These birds, although relatively rare at Hohokam sites compared to other Southwestern cultures, were probably used for their colorful feathers in ceremonial and ritual activities. Their exotic nature would have been highly prized by the Hohokam.
The Flow of Ideas
Besides material goods, the Hohokam trading network also would have brought cultural influences. Hohokam ideology appears to have changed over time and was probably influenced by contacts with other cultures through trade. Hohokam material culture indicates that they participated in religious and social status activities with groups outside their sphere of influence, including Mexico. In addition, the building of ballcourts with their ceremonial or ideological significance, the building of platform mounds, and changes in mortuary practices all may indicate cultural influences on the Hohokam world view through participation in a large interaction sphere.
The role of trade in Hohokam society has always been an important topic of discussion for archaeologists. The focus of this discussion has been on long-distance trade and the influence of Mesoamerican culture on Southwestern economy, but Hohokam trade occurred at many levels and involved both distant and local groups. Although the variety of trade items from Mexico is interesting, they occur in relatively low frequencies over several centuries. It is possible that some of the exotic or finely made trade items served as status markers or indicators of elite prestige among the Hohokam. Some of these craft objects also may have been important in ritual transactions validating major life transitions such as marriage, completion of an apprenticeship, or receipt of power.