Phoenix has this wonderful museum called the Heard Museum. For anyone who wants to understand Native American cultures, you've got to put it on the top of your list. To not visit the Heard would be like studying art and never visiting the Louvre or the Chicago Art Museum. I don't believe there's a more comprehensive collection anywhere else in the world.
I visited the Heard Museum yesterday in my quest to understand more about the Hohokam Indians as this culture is central to my current WIP. The Hohokams first came to what we now know as Phoenix, Arizona, around 50 A.D. They flourished in the Valley of the Sun and yet, for reasons unknown, they vanished around 1500, a tidbit that intrigues the writer in me. I mean, how interesting is that?
Considering the time period, the Hohokams were a pretty advanced culture, having built miles of canals all around Phoenix to channel water from the Gila and Salt Rivers to feed their cotton and vegetable fields. Many of these canals still exist today.
Some of the artifacts in the museum include clay pottery, shell jewelry, wooden figurines, even cotton belts they wore. You begin to get an idea of what their daily lives might have been like, including their ceremonies and rituals and you start to wonder why they vanished so abruptly. At least, I do.
And spending a day at the museum wasn't enough. I can't wait to go back. I also can't wait to return to my current WIP and begin weaving in some of these details to give my story more authenticity and flavor. It's starting to come alive for me now. You know, that time during the writing process when your characters seem so real it's as if you hear them talking back to you. (And your family thinks your crazy. Sort of.) Well, I'm definitely there.
Anyway, the Heard Museum is a truly cool place. If you're ever in Phoenix, you've got to check it out. Their outside cafe and gift shop are pretty incredible, too.