Hello Friends and Family,

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Pueblo Grande Museum

Phoenix is in the Sonoran Desert which covers some 120,000 square miles in the United States and Mexico. Winter temperatures are typically mild (this year has been exceptionally nice if you’re a golfer — the lack of rain is not so nice if you’re a farmer) and summer temperatures are hot. But of course, it’s a dry heat.

It is hard to imagine living in this area without the modern conveniences of civilization, especially water supplied from the Colorado River via an extensive canal system, electricity to keep us cool and roads to import food and other necessities of life.

However, there were people living in this area from about 1 AD to 1500 AD — the Hohokam — probably the people responsible for the petroglyphs I shared in a previous issue. They also left evidence — some of which fortunately has been preserved at the Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park in Phoenix.

I visited the museum this week (it is so great to have time to explore now) and was very impressed. The centerpiece is a large mound — which is the ruins of a Hohokam village that was inhabited for many centuries.

Careful excavation has revealed that the oldest walls formed rooms that were later filled with trash. New rooms were built on top of the old filled-in rooms as the mound grew ever taller.

Of course, this is a windfall for an archaeologist since it preserves bones (so we know what they ate), broken pottery (tells us how they stored items as well as their art of decorating), jewelry (showing free time and artistic sense), human remains (showing respect for the dead and possible religious customs) and on and on.

Sometimes archaeologists find a surprise — in this case a room showing their sophistication with observing the heavens. Note in the picture to the left are two doorways — one is behind the bump in the wall the other is clearly visible. These are aligned so that at sunrise on the summer solstice, the sun shines through the door on the left, across the room and to the door on the right. Similarly, at sunset on the winter solstice light entering through the right door graces the door opening on the left. Obviously, this information was valuable for knowing when to plant and when to harvest.

In addition to the ruins, the city has built several reconstructions of what these adobe homes would have been like. They include walls to protect from the wind, shade to protect from the sun, pots, fire pits, looms, gourds (for storing water), manos & metates (for grinding corn), etc. Different instances of these houses reflect changes in style over the centuries of habitation here. But where did they get their water from? Well, the Salt River today is a dry river bed that runs through the Phoenix area and rarely has water flowing in it due to dams that were built up-river to control seasonal flooding and provide a predictable water supply. However, when the Hohokam lived here, water did flow in the Salt River and they built an extensive system of canals to bring water to their fields. The picture at left is a modern canal (if the late 1800s can be called “modern”) but similar in size and appearance to what the Hohokam built and maintained using primitive tools.

Smaller “feeder” canals provided water to individual plots of land such as in the photo to the right. Stones were used as gates to control the amount of water to an individual plot. The plant shown here is cotton but they also grew corn, squash, amaranth and beans. Trees planned along the canals also provided seeds, nuts and fruit. Thousands of acres were under cultivation and must have required a lot of work, cooperation and coordination on the part of the villagers.

Some gardens were protected from pests by surrounding them with thorny hedges made from Ocotillo, a desert-adapted woody plant that has no branches (just a single main stalk) and small leaves which are dropped during dry times. The Hohokam needed only to stick the twigs in the ground and Mother Nature would take over — rooting the plants and producing beautiful flowers to accompany the now-green hedges.

The photo at right shows a sample blossom. They are showy and beautiful — certainly the Hohokam must have had a wonderful aesthetic sense.

It also appears they had free time to engage in sporting activities. The photo at the left shows one end of the ball court. No one knows what kind of games these people played but small balls about the size of a lacrosse ball have been excavated. Quite amazing these “primitive?” people.

Life is good.

B. David

P. S., All photos and text © B. David Cathell Photography, Inc. — www.bdavidcathell.com