• Use and Abuse of Southwestern Rivers: The Desert Farmer

      Ayres, J. E.; Arizona State Museum, University of Arizona, Tucson (Arizona-Nevada Academy of Science, 1971-04-23)
      The pre-Columbian Hohokam Indians occupied the major river drainages of central Arizona, and have been the subject of much intense archaeological research. Evidence indicates that the Hohokam began using river water for crop irrigation about 300 B.C., and modified and improved their irrigation systems over time, until the maximum extent of these systems was achieved about 900 a. D. Two types of water control seem to have been utilized: (1) the direct exploitation of rivers through the use of irrigation canals, (2) indirect use through controlled runoff within microdrainages at higher elevations before it reached the rivers. At first, probably only those parcels of land with optimal soils and drainage were used, but apparently population increases fostered by agriculture itself, combined with increasing social and political complexity, necessitated more and more exploitation of marginal lands. Eventually soil problems increased, imposing severe limitations on agriculture. These involved salt and alkali accumulation due to inadequate drainage, soil density and water logging. Additionally, the extension of cropping required the clearing of natural vegetation, which resulted in increased erosion and decreased available native food resources for periods when crops failed. The culture vanished completely about 1450 a. D., probably mainly because of their manner of river exploitation for irrigation. More recent archaeological studies are concentrating not only on river use but also on river abuse.