Pueblo Grande Museum offers glimpses of ancient technologies

Museum attendees learn the importance of basket weaving. Photos by Tac Coluccio.

“Momma, can I borrow your phone?” I glance backward as I back the car down our driveway. I hand my daughter my digital device and wonder if she realizes the gravity of this technology in her hands. Does she know how far we’ve come with all of our modern conveniences?

We peruse abundant aisles in the grocery store, inundated by choices. In 30 minutes, pizza is delivered to our door. My daughter’s only responsibilities are attending school and completing a few chores.

As her mother, I feel responsible for helping her understand that the relative ease of life today didn’t magically appear; it evolved over thousands of years. An opportunity to attend the recent 16th Annual Ancient Technology Day at the Pueblo Grande Museum in Phoenix arrived at a serendipitous time.

The museum is located on a 1,500-year-old archaeological site left by the Hohokam culture. Exhibits explain the details of prehistoric life and hands-on activities help children understand the skills people needed to survive with only the basics.

Charlie Tadano of SALT helps participants hurl atlatls.

We walked into the museum and headed outdoors toward a 2/3-mile trail that winds through a prehistoric Hohokam archaeological village. My daughter spotted several people throwing objects into the air and immediately wanted to know what they were doing.

The demonstration focused on tossing an atlatl, a type of spear. “These spears are found in every culture across the world,” said Charlie Tadano, of Study of Ancient Lifeways and Technologies (SALT), a service-oriented organization created to share, learn and promote the practice of ancient skills. “It is the precursor to the bow and arrow and helped many people hunt prey for nourishment.” He showed my daughter how important it is to swing the body with enough momentum to propel the atlatl toward its target. Nandini found out it was harder than it looked.

Later, she learned about basket weaving by trying to thread thin materials together. It challenged her in a way I have never witnessed. “These hands-on demonstrations are an excellent way for children to learn about the practical and aesthetic uses of various objects,” said Laura Andrew, visitor center supervisor.

As we walked through the exhibits along the trail, my daughter learned the importance of slow-cooked roasted agave. Agave played a vital role in nourishment for many ancient people, according to Albert Abril, also of SALT. “They used the agave for food and also salvaged the fibers to make baskets as well as other practical items.”

The practicalities of prehistoric life meant children needed to participate so that families could thrive. For instance, children made butter by churning cream–for hours. This surprised my daughter.

Ancient people erected homes by digging pits.

We ended our tour by walking into an ancient home and learning how people sought refuge during this time. Many of these structures were built by digging a pit and then erecting a home. The structures were easy to build and “weren’t necessarily that big because the women and men weren’t taller than five feet three inches,” according to Roberto Gagnon, a museum docent.

As Nandini walked into the replica, I watched as she looked down and around. I wondered whether she realized how much we’ve evolved as a people—and how societies of the past paved the way for her future. The 16th Annual Ancient Technology Day offered a way for us to begin this discussion.

Pueblo Grande Museum offers special events throughout the year: archeology tours, petroglyph discovery hikes, plant expeditions and more. Permanent indoor exhibits display ancient pottery, other exhibits feature prehistoric life and the outdoor replica is available to visit all year.

Pueblo Grande Museum: what you need to know

  • Hours: 9am-4:45pm Monday through Saturday and 1-4:45pm Sunday (October through April); closed Sundays and Mondays (May through September)
  • Admission: $6 adults (ages 18-54) $5 seniors (55+), $3 ages 6-17, free under age 6
  • Location: 4619 E Washington St, Phoenix
  • Contact: 602-495-0900 or pueblogrande.com