Sonoran Settlers: Life in the Historic Desert

  • Posted on: 27 February 2020
  • By: Tori
Sonoran Settlers: Life in the Historic Desert

Sonoran Settlers: Life in the Historic Desert

As Victoria and I celebrate our official third anniversary of building and renovating in the Valley of the Sun, we often marvel at the incredible amount of change that has happened during our relatively brief time here. The massive empty lot near the wash where we first walked our dogs is now filled with brand new homes. Scottsdale Road has been affectionately renamed (by yours truly) the “Scottsdale International Raceway” due to the seemingly exponential increase in daily traffic flow. And I’m fairly certain that a new restaurant opens in our area approximately every 2.6 minutes. 

But as much as we love seeing – and being part of – the dynamic growth of Arizona, we still find ourselves wondering what life in the Sonoran Desert was like far before civilization as we know it existed. This is usually pondered as we savour some quiet morning time on the patio, listening to the only sounds we probably have in common with our desert predecessors: the wind in the trees, birds chirping, and dogs whining for breakfast. (Actually, unlike us with our pampered pups, our ancestors probably had animals wanting to eat them for breakfast.)

But being the history enthusiasts that we are, of course we had to take our early morning musings a step further to satisfy our curiosity. So, after a little research within our self-created (and ever-expanding) Arizonan library, we found these fun facts about those who came before us: 

Founding Farmers – Archaeological evidence points to the Sonoran Desert people descending from an earlier hunting and gathering culture that began in this area around 5,500 B.C.E. But as the climate got hotter and drier, the wild plants and animals became quite scarce. Domesticated corn was then introduced from Mesoamerica and thus began a transition to farming. These brilliant early agriculturalists learned to outsmart their parched conditions by using water from mountain run-offs and rivers to irrigate their fields. Think about this the next time you visit the produce section!

Ancestral Artists – Victoria was pleased to know that these early people had quite the creative streak, developing a signature form of pottery called “red-on-buff.” They also imported turquoise, sea shells and obsidian (volcanic glass) to craft beautiful jewellery, which they often traded for other goods.

Great Games – It seems our desert forefathers (and foremothers) enjoyed a good sporting event as much as we do! Archaeologists have found over 200 oval-shaped, earthen-sided structures throughout southern and central Arizona. They speculate that a game was played within these courts by two teams and a hard rubber ball. Sort of an ancient precursor to our Spring Training, perhaps?

Desert Dwellings – Housing in the desert has literally gone from pits to palaces throughout the past few thousand years. The earliest homes consisted of large oval pits dug several feet into the ground, with brush and pole frameworks covering them and a layer of mud applied to the outside. But by the 1100s, more permanent, above-ground structures were built. Using caliche, which is a natural concrete-like material found under the topsoil throughout the region, they created homes with solid walls and flat, caliche-covered roofs. Quite an upgrade from living in a mud-caked hole, I’d say!

What I admire most about the early settlers is their drive to turn simple materials into something spectacular. And whether it’s a modest upgrade or a major renovation, it’s our honour at C&C to carry on that early spirit of craftsmanship.