It is very easy to see how Emil H. Haury in 1935 saw a
“ballcourt” at the newly half-excavated Snaketown topographical
depression. It certainly “looks like” a ballcourt. After 68 years,
however, there is no definitive evidence for the ballcourt hypothesis.
With over 200 “courts” identified, it would be expected that
some distinctive evidence would have emerged. From 1935 to
the present, the only other hypothesis suggested was a dance
floor. With our new proposal for fertilizer dehydration basin, we
argue that if the ancients constructed topographical depressions
that collect water, this was their intended purpose.
Test Formula for
1 gallon distilled water
3 cups native mesquite/
palo verde detritus
1 cup interior of dove nest
1 tablespoon night soil
2 cups material from
below wild bird feeder
2 tablespoons dead insects
(drowned bees, ants,
1/2 cup charcoal
2 tablespoons bird and rodent droppings
Let mixture stand in the sun for five days at 75-105 degrees
Fahrenheit and average 50% humidity.
Ionization test for nitrogen and phosphorus
1. Sweetwater Phosphate=369mg/L Ammonia=215mg/L
2. Sweetwater/Organic Mulch mix Phosphate=401mg/L
(testing by Tom Huntsberger, Analytical Services Lab. Northern
Arizona University, Aug. 4, 2003)
Dr. Dean Blinn: this is a very high quality organic liquid
Characteristics of Fertilizer Dehydration Basin-Paquimé Slot
Catchment, Hohokam Oval Dish Catchment, Anasazi Masonry
1. Topographically centralized depressions behind one or two
oval or circular dams of masonry or earth.
2. Designed and function
to collect rainwater from a relatively
limited area or catchment.
3. Hold water for a short period of time, especially associated
with monsoonal weather patterns.
4. Stratigraphy demonstrates a distinct layer of organic material
above a floor sealed with plaster, adobe mud, or caliche.
5. Often associated with shards of water transport vessels of high
quality and design features.
6. Located near towns or habitations which have a more proximate
water supply of higher quality and/or quantity.
7. Also found in predominantly agricultural resource areas not
closely/directly associated with known towns or habitations.
8. Two Sinagua sites, Wupatki and Winona Village, share characteristics
with the Anasazi site of Mummy Lake, Mesa Verde, in
that they have two masonry walls on the perimeter of the
“ballcourt” which are filled, at least in part, with sediment
taken from the “dish shaped” plastered floor.
At Woods Canyon Reservoir,
Richard A Wilshusen notes there
was extensive “clearing of this sediment and placement on top
of the dam ... must represent an ongoing process, otherwise the
catchment basin would have filled only with sediment ... the
soil in the immediate area is of sufficient quality to germinate
corn or beans .... vessel forms combined with the high percentage
of white ware are quite appropriate for dipping water,
transporting water a short distance, or excavating muddy
sediments from the basin ... it is of course possible that the basin
was used for agricultural purposes ... over 77 percent of all the
sherds are white wares, and the predominant form is jars ... this
is a very different assemblage than any other site in our
experience ... finally, the extremely high percentage of white
ware jars and relative paucity of gray ware suggests a specialuse
site rather than a habitation site ... [at] Mummy Lake
excavations, 86 percent are jar forms and 87 percent are white
wares ... [Ponding] features such as Woods Canyon Reservoir,
Little Cajon Lake, Goodman Lake, and Moqui Lake are not
physically a part of a large site, although large potential Chacoera
communities are usually within 2 km” - Wilshusen, Churchill,
The Hohokam Canal System and Mesquite - The Hohokam
canal system was probably built primarily for the cultivation of a
mesquite bosque. It has been long questioned why the Hohokam
built such an extensive system on one of the saltiest rivers in
North America. Bean and especially corn cultivation is moderately
to severely impacted by saline water and salinity. Mesquite
is not impacted by levels of salinity found in the Salt River basin.
My observation is that the Hohokam’s primary reason was to
grow mesquite in the “delta” shaped canal system and mesquite
conditioned the soil for corn and beans with nitrogen and shade
temperature reduction, and moderated freeze sensitivity in the
Prosopis L. Mesquite, as described by Franklin T. Bonner, scientist emeritus
USDA Forest Service, is a tree which is “a hardy
nitrogen-fixer. Mesquite legumes make high-quality forage for
livestock and wildlife, and the seeds were widely used by Native
American peoples in the Southwest (Davis and others 1975;
Marting and Alexander 1974; Vines 1960). The crude protein
contents of honey and velvet mesquite seeds are 31 and 24%,
respectively (Becker and Grosjean 1980), and the legumes of
honey mesquite are high in carbohydrates (Harden and Zolfaghari
Professor Todd Bostwick said, “The Hohokam would have
always faced the challenge of soil salinity, yet they farmed the
same region for more than a thousand years, indicating that they
understood how to deal with soil salinity — through the flushing
of soils, leaving certain tracts fallow, alternating crop types
planted, and other soil management techniques. Mesquite comprises
approximately 50% of the archaeological record as
compared to corn and beans.”
While I agree with Professor Bostwick, my observation indicates
that, from the archaeological record, the canal system was
built primarily to “grow mesquite” for food, firewood, and
building materials. Worldwide, especially in very arid climates,
trees are grown as an agricultural crop, and the Hohokam were
doing the same.
Mesquite is a legume and as such it provides probably the
“other” soil management technique used to add fertilizing soluble
nitrates to the soils.
When provided with adequate water, native mesquite
produces a prolific supply of food, building material, and
Mesquite is approximately 50 percent of the food
product recovered from Hohokam sites (Todd Boswick).
In interviews, neither Professor Bostwick nor Howard indicated
that the Hohokam used “grid gardens,” which have been
proposed as the primary agricultural design during that time
period elsewhere in Oasis America. I suggest that the Salt River
mesquite delta across the Phoenix Valley also functioned in such
a way as the salty water was used very little for corn and beans or
perhaps not used at all. The primary parasite for corn is root
cutworm and with very few hours below freezing each year,
gardens in the Phoenix Valley could perhaps have only been used
for a year or two maximum due to root cutworm infestations. I
propose that the strategy used by the Hohokam was to maintain
an extensive mesquite forest watered by the canal system and
that the gardens for corn and beans were moved throughout
the “delta” season to season.
Another factor to consider is that some of the canals are very
deeply incised. This would have put the irrigation water well
below any usable level for corn and beans, but would have been
ideal to water the deep taproots of the mesquite.