The term Hohokam denotes a distinctive constellation of archaeological materials in the Sonoran Desert of central and southern Arizona. Our work examines the period AD 700–1450, encompassing two complete adaptive cycles that involved a variety of changes in social and physical infrastructure.

A long period of dependence on wild resources and riparian agriculture was transformed ca. AD 700 as multi-village cooperatives constructed and operated irrigation canals that watered thousands of hectares on the terraces above the Salt and Gila rivers. A network of communal ballcourts was established that eventually spanned a territory of some 80,000 sq. km. This network became the basis for the Hohokam regional system, a true regional economy involving large-scale specialized production and exchange of bulk goods including pottery, shell, ground stone, and agricultural crops. This regional economy might have increased vulnerability to local perturbations, such as social conflict and variable streamflow. Canal irrigation could have produced large surpluses— possibly fueling political competition—but it increased vulnerability to streamflow fluctuations.

Beginning around AD 1070, the network, and possibly the regional economy as a whole, rapidly collapsed. By AD 1150, a new balkanized social order was developing, characterized by localized political hierarchies, likely symbolized by platform mounds with restricted access. This period, known as the Hohokam Classic, involved a shift to more local economies, greater reliance on canal irrigation, and an increase in sociopolitical hierarchies. It was witness to social fragmentation and local self-sufficiency, heavy reliance on cultivated foods, population pressure, and eventually environmental degradation and poor health. The system eventually collapsed, leading to regional depopulation and abandonment of major portions of homelands occupied for over a millennium.

Distribution of Hohokam Ballcourts


Hohokam Trash Mound


Map of Hohokam Canal Systems


David Abbott in Ballcourt at Casa Grande


  Related Publications by Research Team

Abbott, D. R., ed. (2003) Centuries of Decline During the Hohokam Classic Period at Pueblo Grande. University of Arizona Press, Tucson.

Abbott, Davide R., Scott E. Ingram, Brent G. Kober (2006) Hohokam Exchange and Early Classic Period Organization in Central Arizona: Focal Villages or Linear Communities? Journal of Field Archaeology 31(3):285-305. [download pdf]

Abbott, David R., Alexa M. Smith, and Emiliano Gallaga (2007) Ballcourts and Ceramics: The Case for Hohokam Marketplaces in the Arizona Desert. American Antiquity 72:461-484. [download pdf]

Anderies, J.M. 2006 Robustness, institutions, and large-scale change in social-ecological systems: The Hohokam of the Phoenix Basin. Journal of Institutional Economics 2:133-155. [download pdf]

Hegmon, M., M.A. Peeples, A.P. Kinzig, S.A. Kulow, C.M. Meegan, M.C. Nelson (2008) Social Transformation and Its Human Costs in the Prehispanic U.S. Southwest. American Anthropologist 110:313-324. [download pdf]

Hunt, R.C., D. Guillet, D.R. Abbott, J. Bayman, P. Fish, S. Fish, K. Kintigh, J.A. Neely (2005) Plausible Ethnographic Analogies for the Social Organization of Hohokam Canal Irrigation. American Antiquity 70:433-456. [download pdf]

Ingram, Scott E. (2008) Streamflow and population change in the lower Salt River valley of Central Arizona, ca. A.D. 775 to 1450. American Antiquity 73: 136-165.