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Exploring the Ancient Southwest

Permanent Houses and Community Building Projects


By 600 AD the first signs of permanent homes and village life appeared in the Southwest. Village life and permanent homes in communities brought the development of more distinct practices unique to each village, knitting communities together with shared customs and beliefs. Having mastered, hunting, food gathering, early agriculture, and basket making, the next step was to invent pit houses.

The temporary shelters and caves of the earlier inhabitants were left behind in favor of man-made permanent shelters called pit houses. In the Southern Sonoran region, the pit houses had floors dug down into the ground about one foot deep, vertical wooden poles formed the structure of outer walls, and smaller branches, reeds and grass were woven horizontally across the vertical poles and up and over the roof. This woven wall and roof was then covered with earth on the outside to protect the occupants from sun, wind and rain. The entrance was usually on the side, with a step down to the home's floor. A central pole held up the roof's rafters that radiated overhead from the center out to the sidewalls.

On the more northern Mogollon Rim and up onto the northern Colorado Plateau, the houses were excavated much deeper in the ground, up to 4-6' in depth. The first entrances through the roof appear, or covered tunnel-ways from the side lead into the house. These structures used much larger posts and beams than their southern counterparts. The walls were made of brush and smaller branches and carried up and over onto the roof. The outside was sealed with packed earth. These houses provided protection in the colder weather, including snows. Some had sandstone slabs lining the interior walls for further comfort and protection.

Community Buildings

In Southern Arizona, the Hohokum preferred to live in single homes with some distance to their neighbors, but still in a village setting that might cover many miles. In other areas to the north and east, the first neighborhood close-knit villages were formed and community buildings were built. Large subterranean meeting rooms that are now called kivas date to this time period. In these buildings, the signs of a more advanced society are shown by demonstrating there were public meetings, ceremonies, and organized group activities so important that they deserved the labor and material of building large structures. These buildings were used to unite the village's goals and intentions, reinforcing customs and practices unique to their community, and at the same time giving them a link to other villages in the region developing the same architecture and practices.


An amazing engineering feat was begun by the Hohokum in this period in the Arizona Sonoran desert. Where rain was rare, and rivers were few, the Hohokum spent many generations designing and creating a complex system of canals that carried miles and miles to their corn, bean, ad squash patches. It is estimated that the Hohokum canal system eventually watered tens of thousands of acres of land from the waters of the Gila and Salt Rivers. These ingenious canal systems included dams, controllable headgates, and canals eight miles or longer in length. After the Spring floods as snowmelt raised the river levels, the farmers got right to work opening the headgates and channeling the water into reservoirs and then to their farm lands all summer long.