Petroglyph rock art in South Mountain Park provides evidence of ancestral Hohokam life


South Mountain Park in Phoenix is home to thousands of petroglyphs left behind primarily by people of the Hohokam prehistoric culture. A petroglyph is a type of “rock art” formed by pecking away the outer weathered layer of stone to expose the lighter stone beneath, thereby creating images. They consist of representations of life forms such as animals, birds, or people; geometric designs; and shapes or lines that may have had symbolic purposes.

az-petroglyph-southmtn

What we know about the ancient Hohokam people of the Phoenix area:

 

  • Hohokam roughly translates to “those who have gone”
  • They inhabited central and southern Arizona from approximately AD 450 to 1450
  • They probably did not reside in the South Mountains
  • Evidence suggests they hunted, gathered plants and other resources, tended gardens or fields, conducted ceremonies, and made journeys here

It’s likely the South Mountains were sacred to the ancient Hohokam as they are to local tribal communities today. Rock art patterns may symbolize Hohokam activities or mark places that were important to them.

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Flat dark stone with spiral shape etched into the surface
Spiral petroglyph rock art found on Pyramid Trail in South Mountain Park, Phoenix

Rock art can be found along these trails in South Mountain Park:

  • Judith Tunnel accessible Trail
  • Telegraph Pass Trail
  • Kiwanis Trail
  • Mormon Loop Trail
  • Desert Classic
  • Mormon Trail
  • Holbert Trail

If you see petroglyphs, the best thing to do is take a picture from the trail. While it’s tempting, don’t touch them. The oils on our hands can damage the rock art. Staying on the trail is important for the wildlife habitat as well as for preserving the petroglyphs.

The Hohokam also left behind artifacts such as stone tools and pottery in various canyons within South Mountain Park. Some of these artifacts are now on display at Pueblo Grande Museum.

If you see pottery pieces or sharpened rock tools, they are the remnants of ancient Hohokam activities and should remain where you find them.

Follow the “leave no trace” philosophy, taking only photographs and leaving only footprints.

Help keep Arizona beautiful: Leave no trace

Because the Hohokam did not leave behind a written language, we are not certain of the meaning of the petroglyph symbols found on the rocks. That is the fun part – pondering what they may have meant to the Hohokam or what a panel of symbols might mean to you.

Want to see some of the petroglyphs in South Mountain Park for yourself? Use this interactive map to find your way to the trails listed above:

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