Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, Coolidge, Arizona

This National Monument was named Casa Grande ("Great House") by early Spanish explorers who discovered the area in the 1600s.  Built by the the Ancestral People of the Sonoran Desert it was four stories high and 60 feet long, with the platform mount filling the first floor, it is the largest known structure of these ancient peoples. Its walls face the four cardinal points of the compass. A circular hole in the upper west wall aligns with the setting sun at the summer solstice. Other openings align with the sun and moon at specific times.

Inside the Dwelling

Pigeons have taken over the inside

This walled compound was just one community of a network of communities that were built along canal systems. An eagle flying high over this Gila River Valley 1,000 years ago would have seen dozens of villages with wide, irrigated fields. Extended families usually shared rooms and open areas within a compound. Several compounds grouped together made up a village. Villages along a network of canals worked together to keep the irrigation water flowing into the fields. 

The largest villages were often found at the beginning or end of canals. At these sites you will find ball courts, and platform mounds and sometimes structures like the Casa Grande. Large sites like Casa Grande Ruins were gathering places where people celebrated ceremonies and harvests.

The local Indians referred to their ancestors as Huhugham, which was translated incorrectly as Hohokam. One archeologist referred to them the "First Masters of the American Desert." Their origins law with hunter-gatherers who lived in Arizona for several thousand years. The people irrigated their fields with vast canal systems, and traded with other villages.

The building material used on the Great House was caliche, a concrete-like mix of sand, clay, and calcium carbonate (limestone). It took 3,000 tons to build the Great House. Caliche mud was layered to form walls four feet thick at the base, tapering toward the top. Hundreds of juniper, pine, and fir trees were carried or floated 60 miles down the Gila River to the village. Anchored in the walls, the timbers formed ceiling or floor supports.

There were many smaller structures throughout their small settlement. Along with these structures were many desert plants.

Archeologist Emil W. Haury is standing in an excavated pre-Classic period canal.

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