Did You Know: Hohokam Village Helped Shape Phoenix's Water Canal System

August 09, 2013

There are a number of ruins in Arizona. Among those listed is the Pueblo Grande Ruins near Sky Harbor Airport, on Washington Street.

ruins The ruins layout on the ground level. (Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez-KJZZ)

The Hohokam people lived for hundreds of years. The prehistoric village helped shape Phoenix.  

From a distance, the Pueblo Grande Ruins in Phoenix looks like a mound of dirt. Look past the high rise buildings and highways and you will see it is a prehistoric site of an Indian farming community that lived there from 400 up until the mid 1400s. Did You Know this village created an irrigation system of canal water the city of Phoenix uses in part today?

“When you think of Pueblo Grande and when you think of the first people who lived here, you need to think of water,” said Roger Lidman, the director of the Pueblo Grande Museum. “Almost 1000 miles of canals. They build it with stone stools, sharpened wooden sticks and baskets,” he added.

Lidman explained how the Hohokam people built a canal system for many uses, including to irrigate an extensive series of farm fields.

“Some of the canals that started right here on the north side of the Salt River near Pueblo Grande went as far north as Camelback Road and as far west as 99th Avenue," Lidman said. 

We walked outside the museum to the ruins next to the building. It is a platform mound that stands about 20 feet high and takes up more than three acres of land. Archeologists said the Hohokams created it for religious purposes, to view their land, determine the right farming season, and manage the canals.

“The head gates or where the water from a lot of the irrigation canals was pulled from the Salt River were located right here at Pueblo Grande. Phoenix probably wouldn’t have developed the way it has done without the water, the irrigation system and sort of head start in irrigation that we have from that site,” said Lidman.

Several hundred years after the Hohokams abandoned this area, settlers and farmers were looking for ways to deliver water into the desert valley and found the Hohokam canal system. They began excavating it and produced maps of the ancient routes. The American Society of Civil Engineers said the Hohokam waterway is the oldest irrigation system in the United States.

“The Salt River Project, when they were able to start running canals with the water that was backed-up, were able to use some of the same radians that had been laid out hundreds of years earlier by the Hohokam,” Lidman said.

Today central Arizona’s canal system uses some of the same ancient Hohokam water routes. You can see a prehistoric canal yourself. At the north end of the parking lot of Mesa’s Park of the Canals you will see a portion of the ancient Hohokam canal system.

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