Hohokam chronology cannot be discussed without mention of Emil W. Haury and Harold Gladwin. Gladwin and Haury began excavations at the Hohokam site of Snaketown (southern Arizona) in 1934 and began to identify and classify Hohokam pottery according to a developing scheme of cultural changes.
Gladwin and Haury's original publication of their Snaketown study appeared in 1937. By 1942 Gladwin had revised the Hohokam chronology; then in 1948 a second revision appeared. In this revision Gladwin admitted that several mistakes had been made in the previous versions, notably that he and Haury had relied too heavily upon variations in pottery styles as indicators of more general cultural changes. Later investigators note that Snaketown's soils are soft and easily disturbed, and the archæological strata of such things as pottery fragments are easily disturbed by rodents and burrowing animals as well as by archæologists themselves.
Later studies at Snaketown and other Hohokam sites have reinforced Gladwin's and Haury's early work, and the major divisions of Hohokam settlement are now fairly accurately defined, if still disputed by some scholars. Under most scrutiny is the date for the emergence of the Hohokam culture in the Pioneer phase. Gladwin and Haury assigned a beginning date of 300 B.C. for the Pioneer phase, though many modern scholars would place this as late as A.D. 500. Following the Pioneer phase is the Colonial, from A.D. 550 to 900, then the Sedentary from A.D. 900 to 1100. The final stage of Hohokam culture, termed the Classic, spanned the years from A.D. 1100 through 1450.
The origins of the Hohokam people are unclear, though their use of irrigation canals points to technological migration from Central America and Mexico; however, canals were not in common use by the Hohokam until the late Pioneer period. Emil Haury suggested in 1976 that the Pioneer phase stemmed from the migration of people northwards from Mexico--probably as early as 300 B.C.--and settlement in what is now southern Arizona. From time to time, further infusions of people migrating northwards nudged the cultural and technological development of the emerging Hohokam people.
These earliest Hohokam concentrated their settlements of the Phoenix, Sacaton and Tucson areas of the Salt, Gila and Santa Cruz Rivers respectively. There they developed their irrigation culture and stayed reasonably mobile. They eventually moved northwards up the Agua Fria, New and Verde Rivers, eastwards up the Gila River and into the Tonto Basin, and southwards into the valleys of the San Pedro and Santa Cruz Rivers during the aptly-named Colonial Period. By around A.D. 900, the Hohokam people had expanded their culture as widely as possible without encroaching upon the territories of the surrounding Anasazi, Sinagua, Salado and Mogollon peoples, and without running out of water to divert into their canals. Limited by the presence of other peoples and the availability of irrigation water, the Hohokam settled down in what Gladwin later termed the Sedentary phase.
Haury believed that the Hohokam arts and pottery reached their height of excellence towards the end of the Colonial period, between A.D. 700-900. After this, Haury wrote, "there was a decline in excellence, most noticeable in pottery decoration," which could be linked to the mass-production of goods in the Sedentary period. The concept of the large village, presence of ball courts and practice of slightly different death and religious rituals characterise the Sedentary period. Possibly these are evidence of intensification of Mesoamerican contacts through trade and migration during this time, but these could also be developments within the growing Hohokam culture.
The Hohokam depended upon an irrigation-based system of farming for the survival of their settlements, and changes in the availability of water affected the Hohokam people and their way of life. Climactic information and extrapolated stream-flow records indicate that the Salt River--one of the main water supplies for the Hohokam fields--had extremely high flow levels from A.D. 800 to 900, which had drastic effects upon the Hohokam irrigation canal system. Several large canals--damaged by flooding--were abandoned at this time, and at least one village--Las Colinas--was founded at a safe distance from the Salt River floodplain. Excessively dry years between A.D. 1150 and 1200 may have led to the abandonment of the Snaketown settlement and further changes in the canals.
After the abandonment of Snaketown as a coherent village, satellite communities sprang up on the east and west margins of the large settlement. Rather than the open rancherías of the earlier Hohokam villages, the Classic Hohokam period saw the advent of more compact, contiguous-roomed residences such as those at Casa Grande and Los Muertos. These architectural structures show the Salado and Anasazi intrusion into the Hohokam culture; before this time such multi-storied buildings were not constructed by the Hohokam people. Other changes appeared in Hohokam pottery styles, religious practices, painting and irrigation procedures.
In A.D. 1358, after a thirty-year period of extreme dryness, the Salt River again swelled, to its highest level in 450 years. This unpredictable, cyclical behaviour of the water on which the Hohokam depended eventually forced these people away from the areas they had inhabited for many centuries. Few clues exist as to just what happened to the Hohokam after A.D. 1450, but most scholars assume that they survived as small settlements or bands in the desert, overshadowed by larger cultures to the north and west, eventually coalescing again as the Pima culture group sometime in the late eighteenth century.
For further information on more general chronologies of the ancient Southwest, see the Chronology section of the Ancient Southwest Website.
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This site prepared as part of WestWeb by Warrick Bell and Catherine Lavender. Graphics © 1998, 1999 Warrick Bell.
Last modified 13 September 1999