September 8, 2019

The Hohokam Village Under the Cordes Junction Interchange

Each day over 40,000 vehicles pass through the Cordes Junction interchange connecting I-17 with Arizona Highway 69. Few are aware that they are passing over an ancient, northern village of the Hohokam people.

Anytime the Arizona Department of Transportation prepares to build, they are required to investigate the area “for the potential to encounter cultural resources (including) prehistoric archeological sites.” When ADOT looked to expand the Cordes Junction interchange in the later portions of the first decade of the 2000s, they found an ancient Hohokam village surprisingly full of artifacts.

Results of the survey can be found in a thin booklet with a long title: “The Cordes Junction Highway Archeology Project: Perseverance and Change in Arizona’s Transition Zone.” Officially the site investigated is known as “AZ N:12:64 (ASM).” Unofficially archeologists named the site the “Antler House Village” because “one of the many houses there contained a tight concentration of deer antlers and bones.” 

In all, 38 pit houses were uncovered. “A pit house was a simple structure made of posts, sticks, and mud built over a shallow, flat bottomed pit dug into the ground.” Into these floors were also dug holes for food and other storage, as well as hearth pits located in the center.

“Holes were dug by the builders to secure wooden posts that supported the walls of the house.” In at least one instance the buried portion of one of these posts was found intact at the Antler House Village. 

The houses all had small entryways facing south or southeast which was “typical of Hohokam culture structures between AD 450 and 1300.” Some plant remains were radiocarbon dated and revealed that the area was “occupied more or less continually for about 400 years, between roughly AD 700-1100.”
Archeologists also discovered the practice of a newer pit house being located directly over the top of an old one. In each instance the newer structure was slightly smaller—built within the boundaries of the older one. Why this was done is not definitively known and a matter of debate. Some wonder if it is indicative of family continuity or some type of "ownership." However, all agree that this practice “is characteristic of Hohokam sites.”

Besides the pit houses, “1 ramada, 15 roasting pits, 12 storage pits, 2 trash piles (and) the burial locations of deceased community members” were discovered. (The human remains were respectfully dealt with under federal law.) 

Head broken-off
a figurine.
The quantity of artifacts recovered at the site was astounding. Over one million sherds of pottery were unearthed with the weight of all the finds totaling over a ton! However, no completely intact piece of pottery was found. 

Over 14,000 pottery sherds were subjected to laboratory tests. 9000 were “plain ware,” displaying no decoration at all. These revealed that vessel sizes ranged from an “especially large, kettle-like vessel” down to a thimble-sized bowl. 

98% of the decorated sherds were identified as Hohokam Buff Ware—often found at Hohokam sites throughout Maricopa County. “Some of the buff ware may have been made locally,” the study determined, “but some distinctive types associated exclusively with the Phoenix area must have been attained through trade.” Other examples of trade were found with the discovery of a portion of a seashell and “Tusayan White Wares and San Juan Red Wares, from northern Arizona.”

Another key find were the arrowheads, or “projectile points” as they are known among scholars. These were always finely crafted requiring both aerodynamics and piercing properties. Some degree of artistry was also employed providing distinctive differences among Native American peoples. These also allow archeologists to identify the general time period of manufacture as well. They focused on 3000 projectile points and determined that the majority were “probably made locally but are recognizable as types made elsewhere in the Hohokam region.”

Hohokam palette
Other interesting and artistic finds included the head portion of a human figurine, (pictured above) a bird pendant made from argillite, (pictured below) a portion of a sandstone pipe, and several “palettes” used to hold and mix colors for painting.

“Manos” stones, used for grinding seeds in a “metate” stone vessel were prevalent showing a varied diet of meat, plants and seeds. It was also discovered that these ancients grew corn and other crops at this location. 

Other common stone tools found included knives, scrapers, drills, and awls.

ADOT was only authorized to investigate the area that would soon be covered by the roadway expansion and archeologists are confident that the settlement extended beyond the study’s boundaries.

Bird pendant
Some who are familiar enough with the Hohokam to rightly identify them with the Phoenix area might be surprised to learn that they settled this far north. For those who feel forlorn about this site being buried under tons of concrete, such things happen all around the world everyday. Interestingly, in those ancient times, Antler House Village was a type of "interchange" of trade for the Hohokam. Additionally, it was determined that the population back then was about what it is now: 50, more or less.

Ultimately, the full story of what lies beneath our feet is probably far more complex than we may ever know.

A description of the archeological findings of the Fitzmaurice Ruin in Prescott Valley, AZ. It's the largest Indian Ruin in the Prescott region.

Coming in September 2020!
"Murder and Mayhem In Prescott"
Drew's first book with co-author Bradley G Courtney

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“The Cordes Junction Highway Archeology Project: Perseverance and Change in Arizona’s Transition Zone.” Published by EcoPlan Associates, Inc. 701 W Southern Ave., Ste. 203, Mesa, AZ 85210.

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