A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
For more than a thousand years the Hohokam people flourished in the harsh Sonoran Desert of central and southern Arizona. Digging canals to water the sandy soil, they cultivated corn, beans, and other crops. By about A.D. 900 they had dug more than 500 miles of canals, irrigating some 25,000 acres in the vicinity of modern Phoenix and supporting a burgeoning population of perhaps 15,000. But by the late 1300s the Hohokam were in sharp decline, and most of their large settlements were abandoned. A hundred years later they had vanished, their fate a mystery.
Some scholars have argued that these people fell prey to an invading tribe, perhaps the makers of the Salado polychrome pottery that flooded southern Arizona after 1300. Others believe that a remnant population survived into the mid-1500s in the Salt and Gila river valleys as the Pima and Tohono O'odham tribes. To the Pima, the Hohokam were a people of myth and legend, boastful predecessors who had been slain by the Pima's great hero, Elder Brother. But excavations at the site of Pueblo Grande in Phoenix, Arizona, have provided new clues to the collapse of the Hohokam. One of the largest archaeological projects in the Southwest in years, the excavations were undertaken in advance of the construction of the Hohokam Expressway, part of the metropolitan Phoenix freeway system.
Michael S. Foster is a project director with the Gila River Indian Community's Cultural Resource Management Program. Tobi Taylor is editor of Kiva, the journal of the Arizona Archaeological and Historical Society, and a graduate student in anthropology at Arizona State University. The excavation of Pueblo Grande was carried out by Soil Systems, Inc., and sponsored by the Arizona Department of Transportation.