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Vista Del Rio Cultural Resource Park

Located at 7575 East Desert Arbors Street in Tucson, this award-winning park is available to enjoy thanks to the ongoing stewardship of the Vista Del Rio Residents' Association Board of Directors, City of Tucson Parks and Recreation, and the preservation efforts of archaeological professionals.

This 3.88 acre, naturally landscaped parcel of great cultural and historic value was designed as a city park through the cooperative efforts of the City of Tucson and the Residents' Association and supported by a generous grant from the Tohono O'odham Nation to promote public education. The park was introduced to the public on June 12, 2004, when it was dedicated by the public officials and blessed by a Tohono O'odham Makai. Through the ongoing efforts of all these groups, this park and its archaeological treasures will remain for future generations to study and appreciate. 

Please help us preserve the park by leaving the ground undisturbed and all artifacts in place. 

Vista Del Rio Park
Map of the Hohokam Region

Who Lived Here?

In October 1998, archaeologists excavated trenches across Vista Del Rio Cultural Resource Park (VDR) to collect information on the size and time of Hohokam occupation. These excavations revealed a village that extends beyond the borders of the park. The village originally spread out over at least a quarter of a mile. Most of the village is now covered by modern house and road construction. Even larger villages were located close by where local residents would travel and congregate for special events. 

The artifacts found at VDR Park indicate that Hohokam lived here between 950 and 1150 AD. Fifteen pit houses were discovered in the excavations. Perhaps as many as 70 houses are present with the park boundaries. Each house was the home of a typical Hohokam family and was lived in for about 25 years. Since most houses probably were not contemporaneous it is hard to estimate the village population. Probably about 35-70 people lived here at any one time. Archaeologists also found several earthen pits used for cooking and storage that would have been important in the daily lives of the Hohokam.

Artifacts uncovered include broken pottery, jewelry, arrow points, metates and many other objects. These artifacts and structures all indicate Vista Del Rio was once a thriving Hohokam village focusing on framing, using water drawn from the Tanque Verde Creek. 

Most archaeologists agree that the Hohokam culture began by 650 AD. Humans first entered Arizona round 11,000 BC. Until 2000 BC, these indigenous peoples lived a nomadic life of hunting and gathering. Slowly they began to add cultivated crops to their diets in a process that took centuries. As farming increased, people began to stay in one location year round in order to tend to their crops. By 1500 BC, there is evidence of irrigation. This indicates a major commitment to farming way of life and dependence on cultivated plants such as corn.

Archaeologists still debate whether the Hohokam slowly emerged from these preexisting populations or if they migrated into the area from elsewhere, possibly modern day Mexico Since the Hohokam left no written record, archaeologists use the items left behind to recreate their way of life. This is a very difficult job since most of the things made by the Hohokam deteriorated a long time ago. 

Examples of Hohokam pottery
Pottery styles after 1150 AD

The Hohokam were somewhat shorter in stature than the average person today. They wore clothing made of cotton and other fibers from desert plants such as agave. Most adults wore shell bracelets. Other jewelry such as necklaces and hairpins were also common. Body paint and special clothing such as turbans, were worn for certain occasions. Most Hohokam spent their days farming crops of corn, beans, squash, agave, and cotton.

Many Hohokam were excellent artisans. Examples of their crafts include pottery, much of which is decorated with red paint on tan or brown backgrounds; small arrowheads made from obsidian and chert; and jewelry fashioned from colorful stones such as turquoise and argillite, as well as shells imported from the Pacific Ocean and Gulf of California. Many of these crafts were likely made by part time specialists trading their goods throughout the Hohokam regions. In addition to cultivated crops, the Hohokam collected many wild foods from the desert such as saguaro fruit, mesquite pods, and cholla buds. Rabbit, deer, and mountain sheep were hunted and provided another important part of their diet. 

Village Life

Most Hohokam lived in pit houses. These structures were built partially underground with walls constructed of adobe and desert plants. Small families comprised of parents, children and their pets, such as dogs, occupied these pit houses. Many of these houses were grouped i clusters around a shared yard. Related families identifying with a common ancestor and cooperating in farming chores formed these clusters.

Most Hohokam villages were small, consisting of just a few housing clusters. A few villages were much larger and had areas dedicated to large public gatherings. From 650 until 1150 AD, most large villages had public courts created by earthen berms where ball games were played. The game was tied to important ceremonies, bringing together people from surrounding villages. These game events also provided a good venue for people to trade crafts. Shared rituals and trade relationships tied together the larger community of villages, allowing them to coordinate large projects. This style of organization helped the Hohokam construct the largest prehistoric irrigation system in North America. 

Hohokam Pit House
Artists rendition of large platform mound

Where Did the Hohokam Go?

Sometime around 1150 AD, Hohokam culture changed dramatically. Ball courts were replaced by large earthen mounds as centers of ritual activity. In contrast to the open ball courts, these mounds were not open to the public. This suggests that a select few used religion to gain power and prestige. 

Domestic architecture also changed at this time. Many pit houses were replaced with above ground, adobe structures. Groups of families also built large walls around their homes to make their yards private. Traditional Hohokam crafts also changed considerably as evidenced by different colors and designs on pottery.

A few hundred years after these began, the way of life identified by archaeologists as Hohokam vanished. Where the Hohokam went is still a mystery. Most archaeologists believe a combination of factors including drought, floods, soil exhaustion and other problems contributed to the end of the Hohokam. Some oral histories of the O'odham describe a defeat of the Hohokam by their ancestors. Almost certainly the Hohokam people themselves did not vanish, but rather adopted new ways of life and joined the O'odham and other Native American groups in the Southwest today. 

Prepared by the Vista Del Rio Resident's Association and Funded from a Grant provided by the Tohono O'odham Nation.

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