Coast to Coast: Sustainable Preservation Initiative in LA and NYC

Peru, Jordan, and now…Los Angeles and New York City. From one coast to the other, Sustainable Preservation Initiative is generating more buzz and excitement about its new paradigm of archaeological preservation.

On October 27th and 28th Sustainable Preservation Initiative (SPI) hit the city of angels, first with an event at the Getty Villa. On the evening of October 27th, esteemed Professor and Director of the Brown University Petra Archaeological Project (BUPAP) Susan Alcock presented “What to do with a Wonder of the World? The Puzzle of Petra.” Cut into high sandstone rock formations near the Wadi Araba, the spectacular ancient monuments of Petra are Jordan’s most popular tourist site. Petra, ancient capital of the Nabateans, reached its apex as an oasis and trade center in the early 3rd century CE, but remains an enigma to archaeologists today. “Although Petra is most famous as a trade emporium, its people still had to eat. How did Petra feed and, even more vitally, water itself? Where did people live and work outside the monumental urban center?” writes Alcock.

However, the problem of understanding the site historically was only of the issues discussed at the Getty event. Despite its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (since 1985) and more recently, as one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World,” Petra is also poorly presented to visitors and suffering from a lack of preservation due to erosion, weathering, improper restoration, and unsustainable tourism. SPI Founder Larry Coben was invited up to discuss SPI’s unique model of preservation. Instead of focusing on one-time acts of conservation on monuments, as other preservation programs do, SPI invests in locally owned and controlled businesses whose success is tied to the continued preservation of local archaeological sites. “People can’t eat their history,” says Coben, and this investment scheme provides local communities with a realistic incentive to preserve their cultural heritage sites.

SPI Founder Larry Coben and Professor Luis Jaime Castillo Butters discuss SPI's results at San Jose De Moro.

The next evening, a crowd of 40 to 45 gathered at the home of Patricia Wheeler and Jon Schotz for a cocktail party to celebrate SPI’s initial successes at San JoseDe Moro, Peru. Coben and Professor Luis Jaime Castillo Butters, director of the SPI project at San Jose De Moro, announced that in addition to employing over 20 members of the community to construct a new workshop, exhibition and store facilities, and visitors center, SPI’s investment employs 12 residents from the town. Having been trained by ceramicist Julio Ibarrola, these new entrepreneurial artisans make and sell replicas of ancient Moche fineline ceramics. In high demand, these replica pots sold out during a silent auction held at the party!

SPI supporters bid on fineline Moche replica ceramics last night in New York City.

The trend continued last night on the opposite coast, the fineline ceramic replicas selling out once again at SPI’s celebratory cocktail party in New York City. At the home of Katie Ford amidst a crowd of 50 supporters, Castillo Butters and Coben discussed SPI’s results at San Jose De Moro. They also announced SPI’s proposed expansion at two new sites in Peru and its new partnership with Tuck Global Consultancy to further research the feasibility of projects in Jordan (see previous post here). All in all, the two events were a huge success. “We exposed the SPI paradigm to a brand new audience,” Coben said, “and there’s an increased level of excitement among both past and new supporters.” And with SPI’s new paradigm of preservation on the rise, there should be.

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