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Hohokam Rock Art

Archaeologists can only guess the meaning of the mysterious figures and shapes left by the Hohokam Indians.

The Hohokam Indians occupied the valleys around Phoenix and Tucson between 300–1500 C.E. Skilled and ingenious farmers, these ancient people left numerous signs of their presence that can still be found today. They engineered one of the most sophisticated canal systems in the ancient world to farm cotton, corn, beans and squash in the basins of the Salt, Gila, and Santa Cruz rivers. Some canals can be detected via satellite and are responsible, at least in part, for the location of Phoenix and its emergence as an agricultural center.

The word Hohokam can be translated as “those who came before” in the language of the Akimel O'odham, or Pima people. It is generally believed that the Piman Indians, including The Tohono O’odham and the Pima (Akimel O'odham) are descended from the Hohokam, and oral histories of the Hopi indicate that their ancestors once lived in the central Arizona region.

No one can say for sure why the Hohokam left the area around 1500 C.E., but remnants of their civilization continue to intrigue us. In addition to canal fragments, they left behind large mounds likely used for ceremonial purposes and ruins of homes and game courts. One major metropolis, known as Pueblo Grande, is now the Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park, located just minutes away from Sky Harbor International Airport.

But one of the most intriguing reminders of their heritage is rock art, hundreds of years old, which still adorns boulders around central Arizona. Laurene Montero, an archaeologist for the City of Phoenix, discusses the art, its significance and symbolic expression, and preservation.

Rock Art: Petroglyphs and Pictographs

By Laurene Montero, City of Phoenix Archaeologist

Bird representations at Holbert Trail, South Mountain Preserve. Representation of a ram found at Telegraph Pass, South Mountain Preserve. An elaborate bird depiction from Holbert Trail, South Mountain Preserve. Representational and geometric petroglyphs at Goodman Canyon, South Mountain Preserve. Lizard petroglyph from Cave Creek Wash in North Phoenix.