Death, Society, and Ideology in a Hohokam Community

Death, Society, and Ideology in a Hohokam Community

Death, Society, and Ideology in a Hohokam Community

Death, Society, and Ideology in a Hohokam Community


Based on a study of more than 200 burials at the US site of La Ciudad (725 AD to 1100 AD), this is an exploration of the meaning of burials as statements on the nature of power relations and social structure.


The nature of Hohokam social organization has always been at the core of debates surrounding the prehistory of southern Arizona. Changing theoretical perspectives have shifted the directions and foci of controversy but the differences in these orientations can largely be described in terms of the assumptions made about social organization. A continuing thread to the arguments has been disagreement over the nature of power relationships in Hohokam society and the importance of such relationships to our understanding of prehistory.

The Pima creation narrative identifies the large Classic Period ruins along the Gila and Salt rivers as va-aki or magic houses, each erected by a magic chief or si-vane (Russell 1975:226-29). They also recount the triumphs of a great leader, Elder Brother, who led the Pima against the oppressive si-vane and their followers. Elder Brother and his forces attacked the Casa Grande first and destroyed it. From there they moved along the Salt and Gila rivers attacking each lesser va-aki, one by one, destroying them and killing their resident chiefs.

This Pima prehistory furnished Cushing (1890) and Fewkes (1912) with a ready-made interpretation for the Classic Period sites they excavated. The large adobe compounds obviously were the houses of great chiefs (the si-vane) who ruled over Elder Brother's people, a hapless peasantry. For the Pima and for these early researchers, power relationships lay at the center of an understanding of Hohokam prehistory.

The archaeological research initiated in southern Arizona during the 1920s, principally by Gila Pueblo, shifted the focus of investigation away from social organization to the reconstruction of chronology and cultural sequences. Researchers like Gladwin (Gladwin et al. 1938) and Haury (1976) emphasized cultural boundaries and movements to account for the events of prehistory. Hohokam social organization was assumed to be . . .

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