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Hohokam Culture in Arizona and New Mexico

The Hohokam people were descendants of the Paleoamericans who migrated from Asia to North America via the Bering Land Bridge. Others remained in Alaska or migrated eastward into the forests of present-day Canada. The Hohokam people continued south into Mexico. Thousands of years after their migration south into Mexico, they traveled northward to Arizona into the Salt and Gila Rivers area (Hohokam Heartland). Other Hohokam people later ventured southeast of Arizona into the Tucson Basin near the banks of the Santa Cruz and Rillito Rivers. The Hohokam culture in Arizona and New Mexico is recorded on the Bible Timeline Chart with World History between 900 – 1150 AD.

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The Hohokam people who lived in the Heartland inhabited a harsh environment in the Sonoran desert, but the area became habitable because it received higher rainfall than the neighboring regions. It also had relatively stable water supplies that came from rivers and streams. From Mexico, the Hohokam brought with them the knowledge of irrigation and they built a canal system that reached a thousand miles in their new settlements. The canals channeled water from the river to irrigate fields they planted with the Native American staple food of beans, corn, and squash.

Over at the Tucson Basin settlements, the Hohokam people adapted to their environment and used floodwater farming to water their crops. They planted crops in nearby fields that usually flooded when the river overflowed after a storm. Sometimes, they cultivated crops near the mouth of creeks to take advantage of the natural irrigation. They also carved terraces on the hillsides and check dams to catch rainfall runoff. The Hohokam people built these canals, dams, and terraces with basic tools such as sticks and ceramic hoes.

Hohokam Pit-houses

They were initially hunter-gatherers who relied on mammoths, bisons, and plants during the Pioneer Period. The Hohokam people transitioned from a nomadic to a sedentary lifestyle in 900 AD. They started to live in houses separated by spaces from each other within a village. Just like their neighbors, the Anasazi and the Mogollon people, the Hohokam also constructed shallow pit houses built from brush and then covered with dirt. Pine and mesquite served as posts for these rectangular, square, or oval-shaped pit-houses. Rows of smaller posts were then installed as the framework of the house. Wooden beams were mounted on the posts before these were covered with brush that served as the house’s roof.

“They were initially hunter-gatherers who relied on mammoths, bisons, and plants during the Pioneer Period.”

The walls were made of brush, arrow weeds, and reeds which were then covered with mud plaster (wattle and daub). The Hohokam also used mud plaster as flooring, then finished the house with a hearth and a roasting pit. The Hohokam liked to put spaces between their houses and did not cluster them together like the neighboring Anasazi (Ancestral Puebloans).


Artifacts recovered from their settlements show that the Hohokam people traded with the inhabitants of New Mexico, Arizona, California, and Northern Mexico. From the Gulf of Mexico came seashells, while exotic birds such as parrots and macaws (their feathers were used as accessories during Hohokam ceremonies) came from west-central Mexico. The people who lived in the Hohokam heartland produced pottery, jewelry, cotton fabrics, and food in exchange for products brought in from the Mogollon Rim in Arizona and Mohave Basin in California.

Mesoamerican Influence

Before the Hohokam came to present-day Arizona, they first lived in Mexico and brought with them the Mesoamerican ballgame when they migrated north. They adapted the game to the environment and instead of one long I-shaped court, the Hohokam people constructed an oblong one. They also built platform mounds for ceremonies which were similar to the ceremonial platforms found in Teotihuacan and other Mesoamerican cities. They cremated their dead and placed the bones in ceramic urns which were then buried in a cemetery along with the deceased’s personal possessions and other funerary objects.

Gregonis, Linda M., and Karl J. Reinhard. “Hohokam Indians of the Tucson Basin.” . Chapter 1. University of Arizona Press. Accessed September 07, 2016.
“THE HOHOKAM: THE LAND & THE PEOPLE – Google Arts & Culture.” Google Cultural Institute. Accessed September 07, 2016.
United States. National Park Service. “Hohokam Culture (U.S. National Park Service).” National Parks Service. Accessed September 07, 2016.
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