THE HOHOKAM AROUND SAN TAN MOUNTAIN

 

When farmers began cultivating the desert area near the San Tan Mountains in the early 1900s, they regularly uncovered artifacts from the past - pieces of pottery, stones tools, and more. These were often considered nuisances, and were tossed to the side of the fields or discarded. For a few, like the Brooks family living in Queen Creek, these artifacts represented a time of historic significance; a prehistoric time when an ancient

people farmed this desert area. Mina and Robert discovered many stone tools and pieces of broken pottery lying in the fields and along wash banks. They ensured that these were preserved for many to appreciate in the years to come.

We were preceded in this area by people the O’odham (Pima) called “Hohokam” meaning the “vanished ones.” Scholars generally agree today that the Hohokam evolved from an earlier local hunting and gathering culture.

Archaeologists date the earliest sites of these pioneering desert dwellers to around the time of Christ. By A.D. 700, the Hohokam were thriving in numerous farming villages around south central Arizona. Their culture reached a climax between A.D. 1100 and 1400, after which, for reasons still unknown, it declined. According to articles published by Suzanne K. Fish, an ethnobotanist and research associate at the Arizona State Museum, “these prehistoric farmers developed strains of beans that were heat, drought, and insect resistant and quickly maturing corn varieties that avoided the risks of an extended growing period in the desert. Their beans included tepary beans, common beans, lima beans, and jack beans. They also raised squash and pumpkin, from which the flesh and seeds were eaten, and bottle gourds, which were used as containers. In addition, cotton was grown as a source of textile fiber and for the oily cotton seeds, which were toasted and eaten. The Hohokam added to the productivity of their agriculture by  transplanting selected desert perennials such as agave or century plant and possibly cholla. When baked in a pit, stored nutrients in the plant base are converted to a sweet, pithy food. Fibers in the leaves can be extracted to make string, rope, nets, and coarse cloth.” Hundreds of Hohokam ruins dot the Salt River Valley, and Queen Creek was no exception.

With a wealth of natural resources and an excellent water source, the desert surrounding the San Tan Mountains was prime real estate for the Hohokam. The Hohokam were famous for their beautiful red-on-buff pottery, stone bowls, shell and turquoise jewelry, all of which have been found in and around Queen Creek.