Ancient North America

The watery secret of ancient North America

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Still, Huckleberry says, there’s much to learn from the Hohokam and their ancestors, who utilised canal irrigation for 3,000 years. “That, to me, is the definition of sustainable,” he said.

“They learned how to sustainably farm, to manage water, to not destroy their soils in a way that is commendable and might give us insight into how we might deal with the current plight.

I think one of the key lessons is that you don’t put all your eggs in one basket; you plan for the worst, and you diversify your strategies.”

The Hohokam may have stopped managing their canal system, but they did not disappear. Their story continues with their descendants, the Akimel O’odham (“River People”) and Tohono O’odham (“Desert People”), who live in central and southern Arizona today.

Their legacy also lives on in the city’s modern canals, many of which were constructed by retracing the Hohokam’s handiwork.

The Grand Canal is now getting spruced up as part of a project to connect Phoenix’s east and west suburbs in a continuous multi-use trail.

“Today we are integrating the canals into our communities to improve neighbourhood access, add new public art spaces and contribute to a healthier Phoenix by introducing them as a recreational amenity,” announced Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego in 2020.

The Hohokam’s heritage is also preserved in one of their villages, Pueblo Grande, a museum and archaeological park where visitors can see ballcourts, a platform mound (ceremonial house) and re-created adobe houses.

Hikers can search for Hohokam petroglyphs of coyotes, mountain sheep and spirals along the trails of South Mountain Preserve and Deer Valley Petroglyph Preserve. And travellers can use the A Deeper Map app to swipe right on a modern map of Phoenix and reveal the Hohokam innovations hidden beneath their feet.

But perhaps one of the Hohokam’s most important legacies is less tangible: the idea that it’s possible – through cooperation, commitment and shared knowledge – to live sustainably in this sun-baked desert.



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