May 24, 2012

Sustainable Preservation Initiative (Part two)

Larry Coben and Dr. Jaime Castillo with a local dance troupe
dressed in Moche costumes celebrating the opening
of the new artisan training and tourist center.
by Rebekah Junkermeier, Guest contributor

Continued from May 22.

Coben’s Sustainable Preservation Initiative attacks the problem of looting and decay in a completely new way, one he’s dubbed “People Not Stones.” Instead of focusing on the cultural heritage, SPI focuses on the local community. By investing in locally-created and -run businesses whose financial success is tied to the preservation of the site, SPI provides viable and sustainable economic alternatives to looting for the community.

A grand idea—but does it actually work? As it turns out, yes. Case in point, SPI’s first project at San Jose de Moro, an ancient cemetery and ritual center of the Moche, an ancient civilization that flourished in northern Peru from 100 to 800 AD. Head of SPI’s initiative at San Jose de Moro is Dr. Luis Jaime Castillo, Professor of Archaeology at Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru.  Dr. Castillo began excavating San Jose de Moro in 1991, uncovering the tombs of ancient Moche priestesses in the process.  but while the cultural heritage of San Jose de Moro is rich, the surrounding community is a poor one.  Unable to meet their basic needs, local residents often looted the archaeological site.

"For years we were making little contributions to the towns, schools, and to some pressing need, but we could never focus on a long term and sustainable effort," said Dr. Castillo in response to questions about community development in an email.

Upon meeting Coben at an archaeological conference, both saw the potential of an SPI project at the site.  With an SPI grant, local residents constructed a new artisan center, where local artisans are trained and create replicas of the famous MOche fine-line ceramics.  Adjoining is a new visitor center, where the ceramics are sold and where local residents, primarily local high school students, are trained as guides of the site.  Proper signs have been erected to direct tourists and explain the site.  Community members and Peruvian archaeologists have prepared a guidebook and brochure.

"Until now," Professor Castillo wrote, "the SPI program has transformed directly the livs of 20 people that work directly with the project producing ceramics or metal, of 30 others that work in the archaeological excavations, and by extension their families and relatives."

In just one year, the project has achieved economic sustainability and viability.  As a result, looting at the site has come to a halt.

With such success at San Jose de Moro, there's been an outpouring of requests for similar programs at other sites.  One of these is Pampas Gramalote in Huanchaco, Peru, site of SPI's latest initiative.  With a relatively small investment, SPI plans to create jobs and attain similar results at this ancient and modern fishing village, where archaeologists recently discovered a massive child sacrifice recently reported in National Geographic.

Young students at the artisan cent
"People can't eat their history," Coben writes.  "We need to provide an alternative to other potential uses of archaeological sites.  That enables us to help people better their lives and gives them a powerful economic incentive to preserve our shared heritage."

This is exactly what Sustainable Preservation Initiative is doing; not only stopping looting and decay, but, more importantly, transforming lives along the way.

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