James L. Swauger

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Swauger during his career

James L. Swauger (November 1, 1913-December 18, 2005) was an archaeologist known for his work on the petroglyphs of the Ohio River valley of the United States. A native of West Newton in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania,[1] he moved to the Pittsburgh suburb of Edgewood in his youth; there he lived for most of the rest of his life.[2]

At the age of 22, Swauger began working for Pittsburgh's Carnegie Museum of Natural History; he started as an archaeology and ethnology assistant.[2] Swauger was awarded a bachelor's degree in zoology in 1941 from the University of Pittsburgh. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army with the rank of First Lieutenant; after his 1946 discharge,[1] he resumed his position at the Carnegie Museum,[2] and he returned to the University of Pittsburgh to earn an M. Litt in history.[1] Swauger was promoted to the position of archaeology and ethnology curator in 1949; as his career progressed, he became an associate director of the museum in 1955, received the title of "Senior Scientist" in 1976, and was made a curator emeritus in 1981.[1]

Swauger was largely responsible for the modern anthropology program at the Carnegie Museum, which had fallen into abeyance in the early twentieth century.[2] After conducting research in locations as varied as Nebraska and southern Yemen,[1] he received significant grants in the 1950s to begin the excavation of Fort Pitt and Fort Duquesne at the present site of Point State Park in downtown Pittsburgh.[2] In connection with these excavations, Swauger helped to found the Upper Ohio Valley Archaeology Survey.[1]

During the 1950s, Swauger began to be professionally interested in the study of Native American rock art; he concentrated on the upper Ohio River valley region,[1] although his studies also encompassed some of the petroglyphs of the northeastern United States.[2] As a part of this specialty, he aided in founding multiple academic conferences on the subject of rock art, including a 1970 conference in Virginia that was the first of its kind anywhere in the eastern part of the United States.[3] Among his writings was a book known as Rock Art of the Upper Ohio Valley, which has been regarded as a leading work in the archaeology of the region.[4] This book was one of nearly three hundred works on anthropology and museology that Swauger published; additionally, he produced extensive notes, amounting to at least nineteen volumes by 1979.[1] Although he retired in 1981,[2] he continued to work actively as late as 1996, both visiting petroglyph sites and publishing new writings.[1] Besides his work in archaeology, he was known as a master organizer; soon after taking the assistant director position at the Carnegie Museum, he personally reorganized a massive collection of entomological information that had previously been in disarray, and this pattern he continued throughout the rest of his life.[2]

In late 2005, Swauger died of pneumonia at a nursing home in Johnston, Rhode Island, aged ninety-two. He was survived by his son and two daughters, along with multiple grandchildren and great-grandchildren. In the aftermath of his death, he was recalled as an "ageless" figure who had created a benchmark for every other archaeologist working in western Pennsylvania.[2]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Murphy, James L. "In Memoriam: James L. Swauger (1913-2005)," Ohio Archaeologist, v. 57 no. 1 (Winter 2007), 41
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Pitz, Marylynne. Obituary: James L. Swauger/Associate director of Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2005-12-24. Accessed 2010-09-07.
  3. ^ A Short History of the Eastern States Rock Art Research Association, Eastern States Rock Art Research Association, 2007. Accessed 2010-09-07.
  4. ^ Schaafsma, Polly. Indian Rock Art of the Southwest. Albuquerque: U of New Mexico P, 1986, 23.