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 ( and peruse our photos of San Jose de Moro.

2)      Keep up-to-date with San Jose de Moro by friending us on Facebook: and following us on Twitter @ SPInitiative!

3)      Visit the San Jose De Moro website: !


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