Hohokam Farming Knowledge Furthered Thanks to PHX Sky Train™
As construction gears up for the PHX Sky Train™ at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, an exciting, three month archaeological excavation is drawing to a close. To the average person, it looks like piles of dirt, trenches, and scraped surfaces – but to archaeologists, it’s an exciting scientific advancement in the knowledge of prehistory in the area. The project, managed by Dr. Kathleen Henderson of Desert Archaeology, uncovered information regarding prehistoric Hohokam Indian irrigation farming that, until now, has only been speculated on by archaeologists. The excavation project took place before PHX Sky Train construction began near 44th and Washington streets in central Phoenix.
The Hohokam farmed squash, corn, beans and cotton during their occupation of the area around an ancient civilization now known as Pueblo Grande and present day Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport between 450 and 1450 AD. While archaeologists have long known that these farmers were also amazing engineers, based on their intricate canal systems, there has never been an excavation in the Phoenix basin that revealed how the Hohokam organized and plotted their feeder canals and farming fields. Through a combination of trenching and surface scraping, it is now clear that Hohokam farm plots were laid out side by side, with a feeder canal running along one side and small branch canals coming off the feeder canal, making each farm plot approximately twenty feet square.
These findings came to light through the City of Phoenix Archaeology section, which ensures that Federal guidelines relating to archaeology are adhered to when any new construction within city limits is undertaken. Urban growth and expansion are inevitable in a city the size of Phoenix. The City Archaeologist, his staff and contracted archaeological firms, such as Desert Archaeology, are keenly aware of this. Any opportunity to excavate prior to a construction project is a unique chance to acquire more knowledge on those who occupied the areas in the past – and is unprecedented compared to other municipalities across the country.
City of Phoenix Archaeologist Todd Bostwick, who has overseen this project from the beginning, gave a personal tour of these discoveries to Assistant Aviation Directors Jane Morris and Paul Blue along with Jay DeWitt, Project Manager for the PHX Sky Train™. As seen in the photos above, Dr. Bostwick highlighted a 9-foot deep trench revealing a large Hohokam canal cross-section along with the farm fields and canals which were outlined in chalk for easy identification. The tour also included seeing several excavated field houses and the warming hearths within. Dr. Bostwick discusses some of the findings in the video to the right.
Dr. Henderson’s excavation, while devoid of artifacts other than stone tools for farming, revealed more than ten field houses in the area plus dozens of canals amidst the farm fields. Popular thought is that the field houses were only occupied seasonally, and the yields from the crops were used to support the larger village of Pueblo Grande directly to the east. Analysis of soil samples and content from the excavated canals will allow archaeologists to determine velocity and seasonal use of water.
This excavation has attracted archaeologists, scholars and students from within the state and nationally to visit this exciting excavation, which Dr. Bostwick speculates may be the most important discovery relating to Hohokam farming methods in the past 20 years. He acknowledged that these discoveries would not have come about without the advent of the PHX Sky Train™ project. He ended his tour saying, “I would argue that the knowledge we learned from this archaeological project is an equal contribution to our society as the train itself will be in the moving of people to and from the light rail system.”
The PHX Sky Train™ will transport Airport visitors between the METRO light rail system and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. Stage one, which will run between light rail, east economy parking and Terminal 4, will be complete in 2012.