Tuesday, March 8, 2011


HOMELAND OF THE HOHOKAM CULTURE.  Map courtesy of Wikipedia.

The rocks around Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona, contain numerous “artifacts” that point to the presence of an archaeological culture known as the Hohokam.  Residents in my home state of Colorado are perhaps most familiar with another group, the Ancestral Puebloans (commonly called Anasazi), an ancient Native American culture centered on the present-day Four Corners region.  However, in this part of Arizona the Hohokam reign supreme.  Like the Anasazi, little is known of the Hohokam descendants.  What we do know is that the Hohokam were very successful in their endeavors.  They built the Great House, now partially preserved at Casa Grande National Monument (see previous blog), and left behind untold numbers of petroglyphs on rock outcrops.  Vestiges of their extensive irrigation canals may be found as these agrarians farmed fields of cotton, squash, maize and beans.  They seemed to have occupied the areas along the Santa Cruz, Gila, and Salt Rivers from about AD 0 to ~1450.

While hiking in some of the smaller basalt outcrops near Picacho Peak (see previous blog) I came across some quite interesting features in the rocks.  These were circular in nature, perhaps four to five inches in diameter, and ranged in depth up to 10 inches.  The structures obviously were made by “people” and were most common near the entrance to small caves.  They are bedrock mortars, or morteros, where members of the Hohokam Culture ground mesquite beans for use as food.  They seem identical to features found at Pima County’s Los Morteros Conservation Area (Arizona) and Indian Grinding Rock State Historical Park.  This latter site, in the foothills of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, is a limestone locality where the local Native American population ground acorns. 

At any rate, the sight of these structures was a serendipitous moment and made me pause to reflect on the human history of the Sonoran Desert.  I could just picture in my mind a group of people grinding away and experiencing a social interaction, perhaps yelling at small children to get off the cliffs and watch out for snakes, and talking about the weather.  It was a pleasant thought.