Q&A with Luis Jaime Castillo: National Geographic Archaeologist

Check out this fascinating Q&A with SPI Archaeologist Luis Jaime Castillo on National Geographic:


“I think that everyone has to find a niche where they can make a difference, and doing seriously what we do makes a difference, transforms lives, makes the world a better place.”

-Luis Jaime Castillo

Photo of the Week

The archaeological site of Caral (or Caral-Supe) contains the remains of a large settlement of the Norte Chico civilization, and is located about 200 km north of Lima, Peru.  In a recent trip to Peru, the SPI Board visited the famous site, which is dotted with pyramids, the largest of which covers an area nearly the size of four football fields and reaches a height of 60 feet tall! 

Many thanks to John Crary for the photograph.

SPI Hits Conferences Around Peru

by Solsire Cusicanqui

Last week, SPI traveled the length of Peru to promote its work at the country’s most important archaeological conferences. First, we hit the city of Ica in southern Peru for the Conference of the Paracas-Nasca Cultures, which brought together more than 100 attendees.

Next, SPI traveled north to the capital for the country’s inaugural Conference of Lima Culture, hosted by the Lima Museum of Art (MALI). SPI sponsored the event, which was organized by YaleUniversity and the University of Maine. The event attracted over 200 attendees, including our Peruvian representative, Solsiré Cusicanqui, who was invited to give a presentation about our projects which save sites by transforming lives. The attendees received SPI grant applications and informational brochures about our projects. They also had the opportunity to purchase items created by our artisans in the MALI gift store, which, in order to feature these beautiful works of art, has signed a contract with our local artisans.

We concluded the week with the Conference of the Huari Culture, held in the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru (Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú). Here, over 100 conference participants heard about our grants and projects that preserve cultural heritage sites by investing in locally-created and -owned businesses whose success is tied to the preservation of the site.

We hope that our presence at these conferences will inform more Peruvian archaeologists about our projects and encourage them to apply for our grants, which empower local communities to embrace their cultural heritage as an economic asset.

Internship Opportunities with the Sustainable Preservation Initiative

Interested in saving the world’s cultural heritage? Want to transform local communities while doing it? So do we. The Sustainable Preservation Initiative (SPI) is a new non-profit whose mission is to save cultural heritage sites around the globe, but in an entirely new way: through local economic development.

Traditionally, preservation organizations will throw a bunch of money at a site, building large and expensive museums or visitor centers in an attempt to attract tourism and protect the site from looting and decay. Time and time again, however, this paradigm fails. The museums close, the visitor centers are empty, and the site isn’t preserved and continues to be looted, often by the impoverished local community. We think the problem with this model is the point of focus: the people actually living in the area tend to be an afterthought, if that. To provide themselves and their families with the essentials, it’s not uncommon for local residents to take stones and artifacts, grow crops, or graze livestock on the sites. To prevent these destructive practices, SPI creates jobs by investing in locally-created and -run businesses whose success is tied to the preservation of the site. Not only are lives in the community transformed, but the endangered archaeological sites are preserved in a completely sustainable way.

Currently, we have two projects in Peru, one at San Jose de Moro and one at Pampas Gramalote, and are hoping to expand to three more sites by the end of the year.

We are looking for smart, self-motivated individuals passionate about cultural heritage and economic development to assist with the following this fall:

  • Organizing traditional and online fundraising programs
  • Writing and reviewing grant applications and reports
  • SPI’s website, Facebook page, and other social media
  • Preparing presentation materials
  • Administrative work
  • Assisting the Executive Director

Join us in saving sites by transforming lives!

We are located in New York City, but remote (online) internship positions will be considered depending on the candidate.

To apply, please email Rebekah Junkermeier, Program and Development Associate at SPI, at Rebekah@sustainablepreservation.org with a cover letter, CV, and short writing sample.

Thank you!

Photo of the Week

SPI Board Members walking into the sunset at the site of Chotuna-Chornancap, Peru, an archaeological site that has yielded both Incan and pre-Incan remains.

Many thanks to John Crary for the photograph.

Combating Looting and Saving Cultural Heritage: Q&A with Chasing Aphrodite’s Jason Felch

Jason Felch discussing WikiLoot at the ARCA Conference in June 2012.

Recently, we caught up with Jason Felch, co-author of Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World’s Richest Museum. While we here at SPI are attacking the problem of looting and the illicit antiquities trade from the supply side, Jason does so from the demand side. With this in mind, Jason has created “WikiLoot,” an open source database of information and documents concerning the illicit trade in looted antiquities. We asked him more about it:

 1. We read that the inspiration for WikiLoot is the vast amount of documentation seized by European investigators over the past two decades during investigations of smuggling Classical antiquities out of Greece and Italy. Tell us more about how you came up the idea. 

“The seized archives are a treasure trove of information about the illicit trade — several gigabytes worth of business records, correspondence, personal diaries, shipping documents and photographs seized from some of the most prominent middlemen in the antiquities trade over the past five decades. To date, only a handful of people have had access to these files. The starting point of WikiLoot is to make many of these records publicly available and to crowdsource their analysis. Down the road, we hope to expand beyond just Classical material, as the problem of looting is global.”

2. How will it be funded? 

“We’re currently submitting applications for development grants to a variety of funders. We may also seeking crowd-funding through a Kickstarter campaign. These will allow us to consult widely with likely users during the development phase and establish a bigger network of collaborators and partners.”

3. Give us the basics. Someone stumbles upon a document from illicit antiquities market, what do they do?

“People aren’t likely to stumble across documents from the illicit trade, so in the beginning we’ll be providing the raw data and asking “the crowd” for help with the analysis. When you land at our homepage you’ll see several things: a blog with the latest reports on the illicit trade; a global map showing our progress at mapping the trade in various regions of the world; a list of on-going projects that need your help, whether you’re an expert or curious lay person. You’ll have an opportunity to search for content at your local museum, or by object type or ancient culture. Deeper into the site, you’ll be able to explore the raw data and help sort, tag and link those records. Contributors will be credited for their work in a way similar to how Wikipedia credits its contributors. This will also provide a measure of quality control. All of this will be supported by a database on the back end that will offer researchers what will be an authoritative data set on looting.”

4. What is the end result of WikiLoot? What do you envision? 

“WikiLoot is an experiment in collaborative online research. It could very well fail. But if it succeeds, our hope is that the site will accomplish several goals:

1. Broaden the number of people who are passionate about ancient art, care about protecting it and are willing to chip in.

2. Create an authoritative dataset about the illicit trade that will allow researchers and the general public to better understand the role it plays in the legitimate art market of museums, auction houses and art galleries.

3. Provide a source for due-dilligence and provenance research for responsible collectors who want to avoid doing business with the illicit trade.

4. Shine a bright light on a global black-market that is responsible for the destruction of our knowledge about the ancient world, and hopefully stem that destruction.”

5. How do you see WikiLoot and SPI working together?

“I see WikiLoot and SPI as two sides of the same coin: efforts to curb the market incentives that drive modern looting. I’m excited about SPI’s community-based approach and look forward to working with SPI all in any and all ways that make sense.”

Read more about WikiLoot at the Chasing Aphrodite website and blog: http://chasingaphrodite.com/.