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!

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