People, Not Stones

The Sustainable Preservation Initiative

The Sustainable Preservation Initiative's mantra is “Saving Sites by Transforming Lives” and is an organization that seeks to preserve threatened archeological and cultural heritage sites by transforming the lives of their local communities.

University of Pennsylvania archaeologist Larry Coben says, "People can't eat their history. We need to provide an alternative to other potential economic uses of archaeological sites, such as looting, agriculture, grazing, residential and commercial uses. That enables us to help people better their lives and gives them a powerful economic incentive to preserve our shared heritage.”

The organization continues to put “people, not stones” at the forefront, placing equal or greater focus on economic and social investment as opposed to purely preservation.  The Sustainable Preservation Initiative looks at the whole picture, boosting not only local economies, but creating sustainable incomes while preserving their greatest assets.

In Peru, an exciting project is well underway called the “San Jose De Moro,” directed by Luis Jaime Castillo, professor at Pontificia Universidad Católica del Peru (PUCP) in Lima. The Sustainable Preservation Initiative was given a grant for artisanal and touristic development around the Moche cemetery, which is located on the northern coast of Peru. Funds have been going towards the construction of an artisan training and tourist center, and in return it has already employed 12 permanent faculty and created 20 temporary jobs within the local community. San Jose De Moro is sacred in that it is considered to be one of the most ceremonial sites of the Mochica culture, a dominant civilization that thrived in the 1st-8th centuries AD. San Jose De Moro is famous for the fine mold-made ceramics and currently home to a small, rural community of about 5,000 inhabitants.

Master ceramicist, Juilo Ibarrola, is renowned for his replicas of late Moche fineline ceramics, and has been a mentor in directing more than 25 teenagers to create this fine work. Once their skills are up to par, the pieces are then sold in the site’s stores where students receive 80 percent of the proceeds, and the remaining is reinvested back into the project. Luis Jaime Castillo says, “The Sustainable Preservation Initiative is helping to turn an important archaeological site into a source of tourism-related cash for a poor local community, thereby creating an enormous incentive to protect that site rather than looting it or building on it. And, of course, creating jobs, too.”

Coben says, “The project achieved economic sustainability and viability in its first year of operation. As a result, looting of the archaeological site has come to a halt. Excavations that have been executed on this site show that this is one of the most complex ceremonial centers consecutively being used by hundreds of civilizations such as the Moche, Lambeyaeque and Chimu. Since 1991, hundreds of excavations have been performed, showing signs of the projects’ impact and significance.”

The Sustainable Preservation Initiative forecasts intelligently, paying close attention to the creation of long-term business revenue and employment while providing incentives for the local community to protect their resources. Coben adds, “It is their goal for the local population to see their rich archaeological patrimony as a source of income and progress, and not an impediment to its natural growth.” The organization is raising the bar with how we look at sustainable business, and is creating a model that will serve as encouragement for future projects.

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