The aquatic secret of ancient North America

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Still, says Huckleberry, there’s a lot to learn from the Hohokam and their ancestors, who used canal irrigation for 3,000 years. “To me, that’s the definition of sustainable,” he said. “They learned how to farm sustainably, how to manage water, how not to destroy their soils in a commendable way and could give us some insight into how we might deal with the current situation. I think the “One of the key lessons is that you don’t put all your eggs in one basket, you plan for the worst and diversify your strategies.”

The Hohokam may have ceased to operate their canal system, but they have not disappeared. Their story continues with their descendants, the Akimel O’odham (“River People”) and Tohono O’odham (“Desert People”), who live in central and southern Arizona today.

Their legacy lives on in the city’s modern canals as well, many of which were built retracing the work of the Hohokam. The Grand Canal is being revamped as part of a project to connect the eastern and western suburbs of Phoenix in one continuous multi-use trail. “Today, we are integrating canals into our communities to improve access to neighborhoods, add new public art spaces, and contribute to a healthier Phoenix by introducing them as recreational amenities,” the Mayor of Phoenix announced. Kate Gallego, in 2020.

The heritage of the Hohokam is also preserved in one of their villages, Pueblo Grande, a museum and archaeological park where visitors can see ball courts, a platform mound (ceremonial house) and adobe houses reconstituted. Hikers can look for Hohokam petroglyphs of coyotes, mountain sheep, and spirals along the trails at South Mountain Preserve and Deer Valley Petroglyph Preserve. And travelers can use the A Deeper Map app to swipe right on a modern map of Phoenix and reveal Hohokam innovations hidden beneath their feet.

But perhaps one of the most important legacies of Hohokam is less tangible: the idea that it is possible – through cooperation, commitment and knowledge sharing – to live sustainably in this sun-scorched desert.

Ancient Engineering Marvels is a BBC Travel series that draws inspiration from unique architectural ideas or ingenious constructions built by past civilizations and cultures across the planet.

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