In 1977 a large Hohokam village was suddenly discovered when developers began construction near the intersection of Broadway and McClintock in Tempe, Arizona. The Department of Anthropology at Arizona State University was called out to the site. Eventually, students, professors and other professional archaeologists were brought in to recover information about the site and to excavate prehistoric rooms and other features. The work at the site continued into 1978.
While the excavations at the site were successful and recovered information that would otherwise have been lost, this experience pointed to the need for a more formal organization dedicated to recovering information from sites prior to development. While archaeological and historic sites on public lands or within projects receiving state or federal funds were excavated or protected, sites on private land were not. To fill this need, Sam Barr III, an ASU student and local business owner, assembled a coalition of professional and avocational archaeologists. The group of volunteers and soon acquired equipment, including old military vehicles, and was prepared to react quickly when sites were endangered.
Sam Baar III, founding chairperson of SWAT, working on excavations at the Rowley Site.
The group continued to work with ASU at several sites, including La Ciudad de Los Hornos (the City of the Ovens). They also quickly allied themselves with the Mesa Historical and Archaeological Society and the then Mesa Southwest Museum. The core group of people began work on two projects, the restoration of the Sirrine House and a nearby site destined for development, the Rowley Site. Impressed with the information being found at the site, owner Ken Rowley delayed his plans for site construction and donated the materials found to the Mesa Southwest Museum. Within a few years, the group left the Mesa Historical Society and became headquartered at the Mesa Southwest Museum (now the Arizona Museum of Natural History).
As modern construction sprawled across the territory once covered by the prehistoric Hohokam irrigation systems, site after site on private land was threatened with destruction without archaeological work to recover the information they held. Often, sites were largely destroyed and the information they contained was lost. But on a surprisingly regular basis, landowners and developers invited the SWAT group to come onto their land prior to construction and allowed them months within which to finish their work. Artifacts were again donated to the museum and held in public trust. A series of sites was excavated in the 1980s, including the Pew Site in Mesa, an additional area of La Ciudad de Los Hornos in Tempe, Las Acequias in Mesa and Las Estufas in Tempe. The group often worked in closely with the Arizona State Historic Preservation Office.
The excavations at the Rowley Site continued for 15 years, ending in 1998. Thousands of people from the Phoenix Basin learned about the Hohokam from tours of the site or joined the excavation crew. Most Saturdays, crews of around 40 people worked at the site and SWAT membership grew to several hundred people. When the excavations at the Rowley Site concluded, the Mesa City Council declared "Rowley Site Day" as a community celebration of what had become a local fixture in the Mesa landscape.
The work of the SWAT group helped change attitudes concerning the ability of "avocational archaeologists." The Arizona Archaeological Society, formed several years before, pioneered the way, showing that people without academic degrees could contribute to the field of archaeology. Not "amateurs," avocational archaeologists are individuals interested in archaeology who receive formal training in archaeological techniques. The SWAT team soon contributed to the idea that the public could not only be involved in archaeology but that they could make substantial contributions to the field. The SWAT group soon began to receive local, state and national awards.
Peg Mowry working at the SWAT booth at the 2008 Archaeology Expo.
In the 1980s, following the lead of Professor Charles Redman at Arizona State University, the group began to hold larger public educational events or "open houses" at the dig site. This quickly blossomed when SWAT worked on the first "Archaeology Fair" organized by Cory Breterniz of Soil Systems Inc. The following two years the SWAT group held the nascent archaeology fairs, in conjunction with the State Historic Preservation Office, at the Rowley Site and the Arizona Museum of Natural History. Now, decades later, the Archaeology Expo is an acclaimed state-wide event.
As the building boom of the 1980s urbanized the area once covered by the irrigation systems and large villages of the Hohokam, the need for emergency archaeological work subsided (but did not disappear all together). Having witnessed the destruction of many archaeological sites, the group added a new challenge in their inventory of tasks. SWAT turned its attention to the preservation of archaeological and historic sites. In the early 1980s, the group became involved with the site of Mesa Grande and successfully worked to have the City of Mesa preserve the site.
The "Pueblo Grande Mudslingers" began as a SWAT project in the 1990s. This group works on the stabilization of the Pueblo Grande platform mound, Pueblo Grande Museum and Cultural Park, Phoenix.
They also initiated work in the field of ruin stabilization and historic preservation, helping to stabilize the Pueblo Grande platform mound (a group now referred to as the Pueblo Grande Mudslingers). They completed a project to stabilize and save the Pennington Cabin, the earliest surviving anglo residence in Arizona. The "Verdugo" project included the stabilization an 1800's stage coach stop and a one-room adobe schoolhouse in the desert outside of Coolidge, Arizona.
Today, the SWAT group continues to be known for its work in both archaeological excavations and historic preservation programs. The major project continues to be the Mesa Grande project. The goal is to open the mound to the public as an educational and recreational facility.
Replacing the mud mortar on the Pennington Cabin, the oldest surviving Anglo residence in Arizona.
The restoration of the historic Sirrine House in Mesa brought many of the early SWAT members together under the auspices of the Mesa Historical and Archaeological Society. SWAT members continue to work on the house today. Here Ed Mack is replacing the mortar on this brick structure.
Working on the roof at the Verdugo one room