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Who Were the Hohokam?

A Podcast of Place



Who Were the Hohokam?

Aengus Anderson

We live on top of the Hohokam—their buildings, ball courts, canals, fields, and bodies—yet most of us know nothing about them. Maybe that shouldn't come as a surprise. Arizona residents are famously transient and even Americans in relatively stable communities are often ignorant of the Indian landscapes underneath them. Sometimes that's because it's easier to ignore Indian history than confront the questions raised by studying the past, other times that's because Indian worlds are so thoroughly erased that they're hard to imagine or narrativize.

I am ignorant of the Hohokam world—embarrassingly so, both as a Tucsonense and as someone with Hohokam pottery in his back yard. A few childhood visits to Casa Grande National Monument and half of a class in graduate school left me with some impressions, but little sense of who the Hohokam actually were and what their world looked, tasted, and sounded like.

Luckily, the professor who taught the Hohokam portion of my grad school class was Paul Fish, an archaeologist who has been studying the Hohokam for over three decades. Six years later, when I emailed Paul and his wife Suzy (also an archaeologist), they agreed to show me around one of their dig sites.

Suzy Fish holds a piece of Hohokam red-on-buff pottery.

Suzy Fish holds a piece of Hohokam red-on-buff pottery.

This episode is the heavily-edited result of three hours of walking around the Marana Platform Mound site. My hope was to draw a picture of Hohokam life, to animate a subject that is intensely human and yet, so often, frustratingly vague and distant. We spoke about trade and architecture, food and society, but drawing inferences about the past from an incomplete record of material evidence is difficult and imprecise. An emotion-driven narrative would be impossible here, which makes my job as a storyteller especially difficult, but we've got a wealth of intriguing clues and ephemera that will, hopefully, help you look at the landscape (and the agave) with an added layer of richness.

I've decided to close this episode with only a brief reference to the Hohokam collapse/transition in the fifteenth century. This isn't because I don't find that moment fascinating, but because I wanted this episode dedicated to the regular Hohokam world. I will return to the dramatic fifteenth century in a future episode which, I suspect, is going to be titled Who Are the Hohokam? As the title suggests, I want to trace the Hohokam legacy from their archaeological end to the present day, to understand a bit more about the points of continuity and difference between the Hohokam and current Indian groups, and to explore the story behind why Casa Grande National Monument no longer uses the term "Hohokam."


Music tracks:

Forward - Northbound

Late November Drone - Lyndon Scarfe

Back to Earth - Deltason

Theme music by the venerable Randy Marsh