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The first Indians that arrived in the area that we now call Arizona are classified as the Paleo Indians. The Arizona they found was much different than the Arizona we know today. About 12000 years ago, during the first migration wave, and 6000 years after the second great migration wave, the Indians found Arizona to be wet and green. The habitat at that time contained the, “lush green valleys of southern Arizona” The thought was that the Indian hunters would set up traps for the giant creatures that existed at the time at the many watering holes. As far as the animals that existed we can only speculate, however, evidence exists in the form of the bones of elephants, (probably the wooly mammoth) the primitive horse, a bison, and the tapir.  Other creatures to exist at the time were considered giant by are standards and probably included the mastodons, grizzly bear, beaver, camels, and large bison.

Country Road

Autumn Day © Alison Grippo | Dreamstime Stock Photos

No one knows for sure why, but as some time these giant creatures died off. Speculation is that as the lands started turning into the desert that we know today; the vegetation died and the land could no longer support the creatures that once roamed this land.

As more and more people settled into the area around the Salt River they noticed that the previous inhabitants had left a system of canals that turned out to be quite complex and quite extensive. Some of these canals diverted water from the river up to 16 miles, which enabled the Hohokam to move farther from the river. Scientist speculate that the Hohokam people that built these canals came up from Mexico around 300 BCE and came to number from about 20000 to 60000 before they rapidly declined. Archeologist also speculate that these people used nothing more than sticks to dig the dirt and baskets they weaved to haul that dirt away. The Hohokam, dug more than 250 miles of gravity fed water-ways in the area around present day Phoenix. Some of the canals that they built measured 15 feet deep and anywhere from 30 to 40 feet wide. They also built canals around the Gila and Verde rivers as well, but the most complex is around the Salt River. One must also note that, “During construction of today’s Grand Canal, surveyors followed a prehistoric ditch and couldn’t improve on the grade”. Like the ancient Mayan, Incan, Aztec, and the Egyptian civilizations, the Hohokam has given modern man another reason to believe that our ancestors were smarter and more tenacious than we give them credit for.

  1. One of the first in Arizona to play Arena Football
  2. Considered the to be the creators of the best pottery in Arizona at the time (multi-colored design)
  3. Known by anthropologists as “Merchants of the Southwest”, they acted as middlemen that went from Mexico to the Great Lakes.
  4. Due to there great canals they were able to farm efficiently for a while and spend more time with leisure activities.
  5. Importers of sea shells from the Gulf of California to create intricate art work.


Trimble, Marshall. Arizona: A Cavalcade of History. Tucson: Treasure Chest Publications, 2003

Gumerman, George J. Exploring the Hohokam: Prehistoric Desert peoples of American Southwest Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1991