SPI Announces a New “People Not Stones” Initiative at Pampas Gramalote

When asked what was his most exciting moment excavating Pampas Gramalote, Yale archaeologist Oscar Gabriel Prieto couldn’t limit himself to one: “Every time we found ritual offerings of shark teeth, fossils, bird bones, carved gourds, etc.,” he mentioned, “and every morning working at the site, listening to the sea birds and the waves of the ocean right next to you.” Exciting, absolutely, but only the following moment was described as “unforgettable”: “locals came to the site ready to ask and learn about their own past,” he said, “and sometimes, would explain to me the archaeological contexts or identifying fish bones or shells and telling stories about those species.”

Prieto’s investment and passion for the local community at Pampas Gramalote was just one of the many reasons he was recently awarded an SPI Grant to initiate the preservation of this endangered archaeological site in an economically sustainable way.

Pampas Gramalote is a small archaeological site located in the heart of Huanchaquito, a small fishing community next to the modern beach resort and fishing village of Huanchaco, on the North Coast of Peru. Prieto grew up in Huanchaco, one reason why he is so eager to help the community, and his excavations have revealed an ancient mass burial there, featured by National Geographic (click here to read more) .

A human skeleton found in Prieto's excavations.

Huanchaco and Huanchaquito are two of the four places along the South American coastline where traditional and ancient reed boat vessels, known locally as “Caballitos de Totora” (“little horses of the sea”) are still used even today. Prieto’s excavations there are, among other things, revealing a historical continuity between the 4,000-year-old ancient site and the present community: “They are still cooking, processing, and eating food in the same way they did 4,000 years ago,” Prieto explains, “and they are still using the same technology for fishing and gathering mollusks.”

Yet, this precious archaeological site is now in danger. Thirty years ago, when a surge of immigrants moved into the surrounding villages, more than fifteen archaeological sites disappeared due to urban growth. Pampas Gramalote is one of the last archaeological sites that survives.

The SPI Grant will provide Prieto and his team with capital to invest in locally-created and locally-run businesses whose financial success are tied to the preservation of the site. This is envisioned in two parts. First, gourd carving and totora reed and junco reed artisanal workshops will de developed for the sale of souvenirs to visitors. Artisans trained at the workshops will be able to create replicas of archaeological finds at the site, creating a sustainable source of income for the local community. In addition, the workshops will serve as a training facility to preserve the ancient practice of weaving totora reed and junco reed mats and baskets, still practiced by some of the elder women in the community.

Gourds to be carved in Pampas Gramalote.

Second, Prieto and his team plan to create a “cultural park” at the archaeological site, exhibiting at least two excavated areas that will display and teach how people lived 4,000 years ago. “The idea is to create a sustainable community and project for the years to come,” Prieto wrote over email correspondence. In the words of founder and CEO Larry Coben, it’s about “people, not stones.”

Excavations to be revealed in the "Cultural Park."

We look forward to working with Oscar Gabriel Prieto in Pampas Gramalote. Check back here, as well as Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/SustainablePreservation) and Twitter (SPInitiative) for project updates!

Photo of the Week

Looking out over the Incallajta area in central Bolivia, location of a monumental Inca site. It was in this region that SPI founder and CEO Larry Coben first sought to save an endangered archaeological site by providing transformative and sustainable economic opportunities to the impoverished community in which the site was located.

SPI Receives Grant from Pontificia Universidad Católica del Peru

SPI has received a grant totaling 10,000.00 Peruvian soles (approximately $3,711.00) from the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Peru (PUCP), Peru’s most renowned university, for our current project in San José de Moro, Peru. This grant, from PUCP’s Department of Social Responsibility, will provide the project’s businesses and entrepreneurs with computers, further artisan training, and training in marketing and branding. The grant cited the project’s success to date, the potential for additional economic development in the town, and the potential for SPI’s paradigm to be replicated in other impoverished communities.

The new entrance to San Jose de Moro, painted with Moche motifs on the walls of schools and facing the Pan-American highway.

San José de Moro, the famous Moche and Lambayeque cemetery site, is the location of SPI’s first project as well as home to a small, impoverished, rural community of about 5,000 inhabitants in northernPeru. Here, we constructed an artisan training and tourist center, prepared a tourist guidebook, and provided training to almost 25 students. In just one year our project, for less than $40,000, created more than 20 construction jobs, 12 permanent jobs, and generated thousands of dollars in artisan sales for local residents. 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.

We’re looking forward to the improvements that the PUCP grant will help us implement.

Supporters Contribute over $20,000 to SPI

Supporters of the Sustainable Preservation Initiative donated over $10,000 at the year-end, helping empower local communities to preserve their endangered archaeological sites. Due to the generosity of another supporter, these contributions will be matched, providing SPI with over $20,000 that will be invested in locally-owned businesses whose economic success is tied to the preservation of the community’s precious cultural heritage. These resources are instrumental as we look to continue to implement our “People Not Stones” paradigm from Peru to Jordan.

Thank you all for your continued support! Make sure to stay up-to-date with SPI and cultural heritage news by continuing to visit our blog, Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/SustainablePreservation), and following us on Twitter at SPInitiative.