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Hohokam Pima National Monument


In the mesquite-studded desert valley southeast of Phoenix, excavations have revealed a surprisingly developed ancient farming culture that lasted from several centuries before the birth of Christ to A.D. 1400 or 1500.

The Hohokam people, named after a modern Pima Indian word meaning "that which has vanished," are believed to have been the first irrigationists in what is now the United States. An ancient system of hand-dug canals -- the earliest dating from as far back as 300 B.C. -- extends for miles throughout Arizona's Salt River and Gila River valleys.

In 1934 and again 30 years later, archaeologists excavated a site on the Gila River Indian Reservation that the Pima called Skoaquik, or "Place of the Snakes." Snaketown, as the archaeologists called it, contained pit houses, canals, what appears to be a ball court, countless artifacts, and shells decorated with etchings. The houses essentially were shallow pits dug into the ground and covered with mud and brush.

After more than 12 centuries of occupation, Snaketown was abandoned sometime between A.D. 1100 and 1200, but the Hohokam continued to live in scattered, smaller settlements up and down the valley. Today, Snaketown is again underground. After the last dig, archaeologists, using bulldozers, filled the 300-acre site with dirt to protect the remains from weather.

The Snaketown site was designated Hohokam Pima National Monument in 1972, but it remains closed to the public. The Pima Indians, who are thought to be related to the Hohokam people, have made it clear that they do not want non-Indian visitors admitted to the archaeological sites on their reservation. Tourists are welcome to visit other areas of the reservation, however, including the Gila River Indian Arts and Crafts Center, a source of income for local artisans.

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To learn more about national national monuments, memorials, and historic sites, and other travel destinations in North America, visit:

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Eric Peterson is a Denver-based freelance writer who has contributed to numerous guidebooks about the Western United States.