The School of American Research (SAR – later the School for Advanced Research) owned the Arroyo Hondo Pueblo site, a Classic Pueblo settlement located just south of Santa Fe. Nels Nelson had tested this site in 1914 using the gross field methods of the time and he had never published his results. After an initial examination of the site, it was determined that the site would be an ideal location to obtain a broader perspective on Southwestern prehistory by conducting archaeological research on the far eastern side of the site on a large settlement occupied during the late prehistoric Classic Pueblo Period. SAR’s new President, Douglas Schwartz, had recently completed four field seasons of excavations in the Grand Canyon and had all the equipment needed for a major project and an excellent crew was already assembled and familiar with the way Schwartz worked.  In addition, the Arroyo Hondo Pueblo site was located so close to Santa Fe that Schwartz could easily direct the excavation and carry out the development of SAR.  Furthermore, results of the research at Arroyo Hondo Pueblo could be shared with the residents of Santa Fe, which was fostering the visibility that the then little understood SAR was lacking.

Schwartz first approached Marshall and Perrine McCune, early supporters of SAR, to discuss their interest in a small grant of $25,000 to test the site’s potential for a major excavation. With their backing, a general site survey was conducted by Schwartz and Dick Lang to determine the size of the site and to collect sherds of pottery from the surface that could provide clues to the settlement’s chronology. After reviewing the results of the survey of Arroyo Hondo Pueblo and based on information in the site files at the Museum of New Mexico’s Laboratory of Anthropology, it was determined that the pueblo covered about 6 acres and dated from the fourteenth century. The survey also identified one masonry wall and twenty-three adobe room blocks situated around eight full or partial plazas, with some containing kivas. The preliminary test excavations also determined the nature of the architecture and how much work would be required to carry out its excavation. Harold Stacy performed a preliminary review of the site’s ecology. The artifacts recovered from the excavation were analyzed and a field report was published describing the results of the tests and discussing what would be involved in a major project on the site. In addition, a multi-year research budget was developed for the project (Schwartz, First Field Report, 1971).

With this information in hand, Schwartz developed research proposals for the School of American Research Board, the National Science Foundation, and the National Geographic Society. This proposal was accepted by each organization and funds became available to begin a major project.