Lessons From The Past

SRP excites students with secrets revealed in irrigating the Valley by reviving ancient Hohokam canals

Nando Cobos, left, and Aspen Harrison check out one of the replica pots of the Hohokom people. Wayne Kirby, a retired Salt River Project (SRP) employee, visits Arizona schools and presents a history of the Hohokom people, after whom the current canals are modeled.

Nando Cobos, left, and Aspen Harrison check out one of the replica pots of the Hohokom people. Wayne Kirby, a retired Salt River Project (SRP) employee, visits Arizona schools and presents a history of the Hohokom people, after whom the current canals are modeled. Photo by Andy Towle. |

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The Salt River Project (SRP) educates kids?

Yep. And Wayne Kirby, a representative of the education department of the company, came to Julia Randall Elementary (JRE) to show fourth grade students what SRP has learned about the ancient culture of the Hohokam.

“When SRP built substations in Phoenix, they ran across Hohokam ruins and set up a department to teach Arizona school children what archaeologists learned,” said Kirby.

He’s retired from working with SRP, but when he did, he headed the education department of the company. Now he helps out in the field when he can.

SRP believes in education, said Kirby. The company has a whole department that supports him going into classrooms throughout Arizona to share information about energy and water use and conservation in addition to teaching about the ancient culture of the Hohokam from the Phoenix basin area.

Kirby explained that SRP uses the ancient grid work of canals the Hohokam built to irrigate their fields over a thousand years ago.

“(The Hohokam) had to use gravity — it causes things to move along,” he said, “The Valley has a slope from northeast to southwest.”

He explained to the students that unless the Hohokam had gravity, moving a gallon of water, (which weighs eight pounds), without machines and pumps would have been impossible.

Just like the ancient Hohokam, SRP now uses the gravity and canals to move water across the Valley.

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Retired Salt River Project employee Wayne Kirby points out the particular style of the Hohokam people as their pottery designs evolved and became more sophisticated.

Kirby told the students he loves the fourth grade because that is the year the children study Arizona.

“We’re the only state in the United States that had five ancient cultures,” Kirby told the students from Julie Eckhardt’s class.

He drew a map of Arizona and identified the five ancient cultures, Anasazi, Mogollon, Sinagua, Salado and Hohokam.

He listed some of the ancient cultural sites, such as Walnut Canyon, Montezuma’s Castle and Wapatki.

“Hey, I’ve been there!” called out one of the students.

Most of the students have been to ancient ruin sites from the local Shoofly Ruins, to the Tonto National Monument.

In the course of construction, utilities run across ancient ruins and paleontology sites while they build roads, sewer and water projects. Before they complete the project, they must hire archaeologists and scientists to study the site and catalogue their finds before moving on with construction.

SRP turned that information into an educational opportunity for the school children of Arizona.

The program Kirby teaches today connects the ancient history of the Hohokam canals to the current canals the company uses in Phoenix to bring water to area residents.

Kirby brought with him numerous examples of Hohokam pottery. He explained the pictures on the pottery-represented things from nature the Indians lived with on a day-to-day basis, such as birds or coyotes.

As he passed a tiny pot around Kirby said archaeologists believe this pot was used for seeds.

“This one has a swirl. (Archaeologists) believe a swirl sign was to signify water,” Kirby said.

“Did the Ho-ho-ho ... tribe make stories?” asked one girl who could not get the name of the Indians quite right.

“Yes,” said Kirby.

“Did they write?”

“You mean like petroglyphs?”

“Yes. Will we see them?’

“Yes.”

“Yay!” she threw her hands in the air in excitement.

After passing around numerous pots, Kirby then showed examples of rocks with the etched writing called petroglyphs.

The students carefully held each piece studying them closely.

“When you look at these, remember they were made by hand,” said Kirby, “If you had to do anything by hand nowadays, you’d be walking around naked.”

The kids giggled, but understood his message.

SRP has a message through this program, too. On its Web site, SRP says it strives to preserve the historic and archaeological integrity of the ancient sites they find, by leaving as little damage as possi

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