SPI Featured in Newest Volume of Archaeologies

SPI was recently featured in the article, “Research, Preservation, and Education: An Introduction to Various Heritage Centers, Organizations, and Projects” in Archaeologies: Volume 7, Issue 2 (2011), Page 423-453.

This article, written by Professor Alicia Ebbitt McGill at the Department of Anthropology at Indiana University, discusses the work being done by various types of preservation organizations and heritage centers. Check out the link below!

Among all these organizations and projects, SPI’s model stands out as one focused on the local communities. We concentrate on the people living in and around these endangered archaeological sites, not simply the sites themselves.

Why not empower the community and preserve cultural heritage at the same time? Cutting-edge and common sense.


Call for Papers!

University College London’s Institute of Archaeology is supporting a conference on “Archaeology and Economic Development” to be held September 21-22, 2012 in London at UCL. A significant portion of the agenda will be reserved for papers that discuss case studies of projects where archaeologists have attempted to employ archaeology to support community economic development, among other goals. The conference organisers are particularly seeking papers that (a) describe projects and the motivations for them and (b) reflect carefully on the success or failure of their projects in order to provide lessons for other archaeologists. In addition to full papers presented at the conference, limited space also will be available for poster displays on the conference themes, particularly case studies. Proposals should be received no later than December 16, 2011. Please see http://www.ucl.ac.uk/aed2012/ for further information or contact the conference organizers, Peter Gould and Paul Burtenshaw, at aed2012conference@gmail.com .

Update on Professor Luis Jaime Castillo Butters of SPI’s San Jose De Moro Project

Professor Castillo Butters is currently inWashingtonD.C., serving as a Senior Fellow at Dumbarton Oaks, an Institute of Harvard University devoted to the advances study of the Humanities, including Pre-Columbian art and civilization.

“My objectives in this exceptional opportunity that Dumbarton Oaks has graciously given me is to finish a book I have been preparing on the Moche of Ancient Peru, reinterpreted on the light of our new understanding about the Moche as a multistage society,” Professor Castillo Butters said.

Good Luck Professor Castillo Butters!

Check out the previous post on the collaboration of San Jose De Moro and SPI for more information!

San Jose de Moro: SPI in Peru

Located in the Jequetepeque Valley on the North Coast of Peru is the small community of San Jose de Moro, an ancient cemetery and ritual center of ancient Moche civilization. Flourishing from 100-800 AD in Peru, Moche society is known for its monumental structures (called huacas), its finely painted ceramics, and human sacrifice. Sound interesting? Dr. Luis Jaime Castillo Butters thought so too. Professor of Archaeology at Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru, Dr. Castillo Butters began excavating San Jose de Moro in 1991, which has yielded new insights into the Moche as a multistage society.

However, while the cultural heritage of San Jose de Moro is rich, the present local community is a poor one. And so, alongside excavations, Professor Castillo Butters and his team started a community development program. It struggled: “For years we were doing little contributions to the towns, schools, and to some pressing need, but we could never focus on a long term and sustainable effort that was both different from and integrated with the values and goals of the project.”

In comes Sustainable Preservation Initiative. “I’m not sure exactly when I met Larry,” Professor Castillo wrote in response to some questions, “I guess at an archaeological conference. We hit it off from the start for many reasons, particularly because we both share a pragmatic view of reality, Larry coming from his years as an entrepreneur and CEO, me because it is imprinted in my DNA.” Utilizing an SPI grant and SPI’s paradigm of preserving cultural heritage by creating locally-owned jobs whose success is tied to that preservation, the community development programs and archaeological excavations synchronized: The (screened) dirt from the excavations was made into bricks used to build a new artisan center where local artisans are trained and create replicas of the famous Moche fineline ceramics, sold in the visitors center. Local residents, primarily local high school students, are trained as guides of the site. Proper signs have been erected to direct tourists to and explain the site. Community members and Peruvian archaeologists have prepared a guidebook and brochure. “Until now,” Professor Castillo Butters wrote, “the SPI program has transformed directly the lives 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 addition, the project has allowed 30 workmen to engage in archaeological excavations in other nearby archaeological sites.”

Other archaeological sites, however, have not reached their potential to both preserve their cultural heritage and transform local communities. “Archaeology is, regrettably, plagued by idealists that think that the world is going to change by the strength or moral value of their ideas, with no understanding of the real world and the way it works. Ideas, values and no strategy is going to take you nowhere.” Professor Castillo Butters wrote.  “It is not that we lack values, but we lack the designs to make them work,” he added.

It is these designs, this strategy that is imprinted into the way that SPI works. By bringing together archaeologists and local communities, the SPI paradigm creates a symbiotic relationship that preserves and shares such cultural heritage. “Accountability, leadership, and strategy, as a way to pursue a noble ideal, preserves our legacy for the future as much as contributes to a better life for real communities,” writes Professor Castillo Butters. Well said.

How can you get involved?

1)      Check out our website (http://sustainablepreservation.org/) and peruse our photos of San Jose de Moro.

2)      Keep up-to-date with San Jose de Moro by friending us on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SustainablePreservation and following us on Twitter @ SPInitiative!

3)      Visit the San Jose De Moro website: http://sanjosedemoro.pucp.edu.pe/02english/index.html !

Welcome to the Official Blog of Sustainable Preservation Initiative!

This blog aims to keep everyone up-to-date on SPI news as well as broader cultural heritage and preservation current events.


First things first:

What is SPI?

SPI stands for Sustainable Preservation Initiative, and is a non-profit organization founded by Larry Coben. We seek to preserve the world’s cultural heritage using a groundbreaking model.

The Traditional Model of Preservation

Often, in an attempt to preserve an archaeological site rich with cultural heritage, well-meaning organizations build large and expensive museums or visitors’ centers, trying to attract tourism, protect the site, and display the site’s rich cultural heritage. The local community of the area is an afterthought. Unfortunately, time and time again this model has failed. Museums closed, visitors’ centers empty, the archaeological site, and, more importantly, its local community, are back in square one.

SPI’s Model of Preservation

SPI, on the other hand, seeks to preserve the world’s cultural heritage by creating or supporting locally-owned businesses whose success is tied to that preservation. It’s all connected: our grants provide transformative economic opportunities for local residents, while simultaneously saving archaeological sites for future generations to study and enjoy.

How did SPI get started?

SPI began with SPI Founder Larry Coben’s frustrations at Incallajta, the monumental Inca site in Bolivia where he was digging:

The site was being used to grow crops, grazing, soccer games, and occasionally camping. No amount of pleading or talking about the importance of the site would change this dynamic. Finally, in consultation with the community, my co-director and I proposed putting up a gate across the one road to the site. We said charge Bolivians nothing to pass and foreigners $10. I agreed to pay for the gate (about $50). The goal was to see if we could change the dynamic of site use if the community saw that this alternative economic use was viable and arguably superior to the grazing, crop growing, etc.”

Did it work? In a word, YES.

The community was skeptical that people would pay $10 to see the site, but since it was almost a 100 miles and a 2.5 hour drive from the nearest city, I figured anyone who had come that far would pay.  We generated roughly $40 week on averageundefinedan amazing return on investment; but more importantly, in a very poor community (per capita annual income was probably $100-$200), the site’s economic potential changed the community’s attitude.”

This confirmed what Larry had always suspected: the local people weren’t oblivious to the importance of the site; rather, the need to earn a living and feed their families trumped their concern about cultural heritage.

People can’t eat their history.”

Although well-meaning, the traditional methods of preservation by fixing stones, and the traditional methods of community engagement and education in archaeology, are inadequate both from a preservation and community development perspective.

The focus needed to be people not stones,” Larry said.

After seeing this dynamic played out at various archaeological sites around the world, Larry searched for charities that were using this sustainable and scalable model. He found none. Thus, SPI was born.

Check back soon for more SPI news. Also, join us on

Facebook@ http://www.facebook.com/SustainablePreservation

and follow us on Twitter (SPInitiative)!