Summer in Peru: Reflections from Student Volunteers on the San José de Moro Archaeological Program

By Alex Parody, Sarah Martini and Solsiré Cusicanqui

For the past three years, the Sustainable Preservation Initiative (SPI) has partnered with the San José de Moro Archaeological Program (PASJM), among others around the world, to help connect and involve communities in their local archaeological projects. These community projects benefit both the archaeologists and the local populations by encouraging interaction and discourse between groups that are often set at odds. 

During the summer months of June, July and August, the San José de Moro Archaeological Program (PASJM) brings students, professors, and researchers from all over the world together to learn about archaeological investigation in Peru. The site employs local workers to aid archaeologists and students with uncovering the prehistoric artifacts, architecture, and tombs.This year over 25 student volunteers from PASJM, including Alex Parody and Sarah Martini, had the opportunity to observe and participate in an SPI-directed program. 

A Peruvian Perspective

My name is Alex Parody and I am an undergraduate studying history and anthropology at American University in Washington, D.C.  I have had no previous experience in archaeology but have always had a deep interest in the past. This trip was my first foray into the field, and I have loved every aspect of it.  Because my mother is Peruvian I had the opportunity to travel to Peru twice before, but this trip has by far been the best. Although I grew up knowing Peruvian cuisine and customs, during the last five weeks I have come to appreciate the sheer kindness and welcoming attitudes of the people of San José de Moro, not to mention their terrific local cooking! They were always open to conversation and loved talking about their town, culture, and listening to what you had to say. Because of this, as well as being able to speak Spanish, I felt very connected to the workers at the site. I know that I am going to miss every single one of them like they were my best friend. They essentially “raised” the archaeologist in me – having taught me how to do everything from basic tasks like brushing and digging to measuring, surveying and identifying features in soils. They even helped me learn how to differentiate one kind of soil from another. I loved seeing every side of this town during the past five weeks, and because of this trip I am more confident than ever that I want to get involved in archaeology.

A New Experience

Hi! My name is Sarah Martini and I am a second year undergraduate concentrating in archaeology at Harvard University. Moro was my first chance to both come to South America and to see what being a field archaeologist entails. Having only traveled in European countries before, Peru was a completely new experience. While things were not always as I expected them to be, over the last five weeks I have fallen in love with the many faces of the Peruvian countryside, the Peruvian cuisine (I love Lomo Saltado!), and the local communities that opened up their homes to us. The people here were certainly more welcoming than many others that I have encountered in previous travels. Although I came to Peru having only taken a semester of Spanish, I found that my speaking skills quickly improved through attempting to maintain conversations with workmen from the town as I enjoyed learning about their home country from them. Over all, my experience at Moro has made me want to become an archaeologist, one involved with local communities, even more than before and has made me want to return to Peru.


Sarah Martini, Second Year Archaeology Undergraduate at Harvard University 

The Field

The archaeology at San José de Moro provides a hands-on approach for any field school student. Conditions in the field could sometimes be hard under the hot Peruvian sun, since every day was different, it made every moment exciting as you never knew what could happen next.  The great thing about Moro is that it teaches students the basics of archaeology; skills that we could take anywhere is the world. But we would say that best of all were the valuable opportunities to excavate rich tombs – which for most archaeologists are only the stuff of dreams.  In addition, Moro facilitates daily interactions with the locals through the opening of their homes for home-cooked meals.  The women who cooked were very friendly and sometimes had their children bring out food for us.  We got to know the women’s personalities (and cooking!) in this way.  Because the site is right inside the community, it was very common for people to walk by the excavation units, and people always liked to look at what we were doing and often stopped to talk with us. There were plenty of times in the field when the local children came into the pits and helped (with permission of course) excavate features with us. There were endless opportunities for us to interact with the community, and the community loved to interact with us!


A Mural Competition

This year, SPI contributed to community-field school interactions through a mural design competition at the local elementary school.  In collaboration with the children we created some fantastic artwork.  The children were very welcoming and loved to draw!  It was fun to compare favorite games, movies and music.  It was also interesting to see the depth of knowledge and pride the children had in their cultural heritage as descendants of the Moche.  They seemed to love having us there, and we hope that in the end we helped to encourage them to follow their dreams.  Working with them made us both want to get more involved with community projects – in Peru and elsewhere – and also offered us the clearest view of the types of influences the children of San José de Moro come into contact with as they grow up.  From movies to music to games, they are not much different from the children back home!  It is interesting to see, however, how important their local history is to them.  On the 28th of July, Peru’s Independence Day, some children put on a small show celebrating their country’s rich history, and others orated poems expressing love for their town of San José de Moro – from its vivid history and culture to its modern people and cuisine, there was nothing they couldn’t love more about their home!


SPI Projects on the Northern Coast

Moro has another SPI-initiated project, where local ceramicist Julio Ibarrola produces replicas of Moche and Lambayeque pottery that have been found at the site itself.  He is currently apprenticing a few local teenagers and in this way hopes to continue the tradition of ceramic reproduction, as well as create a sustainable economy for the town. His replicas are found not only in Moro but also in the gift shops of museums all around Peru and through an online vendor, he gives his industry the potential to be a great source of income for those who become involved.

Before reaching Moro, we visited another SPI site which was the Chotuna and Chornancap Archaeological Complex. While this site has been recently made famous for its priestess burial found last year, the SPI has brought local women back in touch with their cultural roots through a weaving program.  It allows the community to connect with the archaeological site, provides potential revenue through sales at the gift shop, and provides the opportunity to learn about traditional methods of cloth production. During the last week of the field school, we had the opportunity to work with Moro´s weavers, who have also become involved with the help of SPI. The women were happy to answer any questions we had about the weaving process when they came to the field school at Moro.  They even allowed students to try their hand at setting up a back-strap loom. All of the students tried, but the women were much faster than any of us! Even so, they were very patient in explaining the process numerous times to the different students.

It is an unfortunate truth that throughout history many archaeologists have not involved themselves with local communities, maintaining a distance between their familiar group of colleagues and the residents who live among the site.  Even when they have made an effort to improve the economy of the community, such as building a museum, many projects have focused on increasing tourism without encouraging local involvement in the site. This tourism fails to help communities when gift shops lack locally-made artisan goods – it is important to include local artisan crafts (such as Julio’s ceramics or the weavers’ textiles) because without them, the money spent at the museum by tourists does not always stay with the community. This idea would not get far if interactions between archaeologists and locals are hampered by an invisible wall created by many differences ranging from socioeconomic to cultural, as well as by the absence of some great impetus for interaction.  Part of SPI’s mission is to provide that impetus.  Its efforts to increase local involvement in archaeological projects, by allowing locals to learn about their cultural heritage and how it can be preserved, are the first steps in bridging the gap between archaeologists and the local communities in which they work.



San José de Moro Archaeological Project Receives 2-Year Research Grant

by Solsire Cusicanqui, Shelly Miller, and Rebekah Junkermeier

The San José de Moro Archaeological Project (SJMAP), recipient of SPI’s first community development and sustainable preservation grant, has been awarded a two-year grant from the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP)! According to Dr. Luis Jaime Castillo, this is the “most important research grant awarded by PUCP to research programs conducted by its faculty members.”


SJMAP has been one of the most active archaeological research programs on the north coast of Peru since excavations began in 1991. This most recent grant is one many fellowships and grants that have financed SJMAP’s research activities, including the National Geographic Society and National Science Foundation.

According to archaeologist Solsiré Cusicanqui, “With the assistance of this grant, SJMAP will be able to create 3D models of Cerro Chepen and San Ildefonso,” two hill sites that consist of Mochica domestic areas in the Jequetepeque Valley.

Congratulations to SPI’s Dr. Luis Jaime Castillo and Solsire Cusicanqui! Stay tuned for more news on SJMAP’s future archaeological discoveries here on!

Celebrating Cultural Heritage through Education: SPI Inspires More Work in San Jose de Moro, Peru

by Yasmin Hamed

SPI’s initiative at San Jose de Moro is inspiring other work in the community! In recent months, Claudia Vargas Ortiz de Zevallos, educator at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, has been conducting research into the strategies used in primary education to develop Mochica cultural identity in local students. Seeing local entrepreneurs embrace their cultural heritage through SPI’s unique paradigm of economic development and preservation, Claudia was inspired to study the relationship between the local community’s schools and their cultural heritage.  The results of her work will hopefully allow schools to diagnose the type and variety of activities needed by the teachers to promote the cultural identity of their students. We are proud to announce that San José de Moro’s own primary center will be the pilot school for the province, and Claudia plans to extend her work to the community of Chotuna-Chornancap, one of SPI’s newest “People Not Stones” project sites.

Educator Claudia Vargas presenting her research to Carlos Wester La Torre, head of excavations at Chotuna-Chornancap, Peru.

Here at SPI, we have seen the real effects of a change in attitudes toward cultural identity through embracing local cultural heritage. We are delighted that our work in this community has prompted even more research into the area of cultural heritage and refocused attention on San Jose de Moro as a result. We can’t wait to see the results of Claudia’s work, which will hopefully see future generations of local residents preserving their archaeological site and promoting their cultural heritage through traditional artisan crafts.

Photo of the Week

La Marinera Nortena. During a recent visit to the SPI-sponsored site of San Jose de Moro, SPI Board members saw this traditional dance of northern Peru. This dance is a beautiful reminder of why SPI is committed to bettering the economic circumstances of communities that are living around endangered cultural heritage sites.
Photo compliments of John Crary.

Photo (and Fantastic News) of the Week

Great news! A large university in Peru recently ordered 100 of the ceramic featured above, hand-crafted by SPI-supported master ceramicist Julio Ibarrola at San Jose de Moro, Peru! The sales of these works of art bring sustainable income to the impoverished community there and are fueled by visitors to the archaeological site.

Purchase and/or explore more of Julio’s works here on NOVICA.

San Jose de Moro, Peru: Next Stop off the Pan-American Highway!

Having reached complete economic sustainability in just one year of operations, our project at San Jose de Moro, Peru, is looking to expand its reach and attract more tourists with whom to share its rich cultural heritage. How to draw more visitors to this difficult-to-find archaeological site? By constructing a brand new entrance off the Pan-American Highway, Peru’s most important thoroughfare, which runs from Alaska to the lower reaches of South America.

Architects Jose Canziani (center) and Paulo Dam (left), and SPI Archaeologist Solsire Cusicanqui (right) discuss plans for the new entrance to San Jose de Moro.

Over the weekend, SPI archaeologists Luis Jaime Castillo and Solsire Cusicanqui met with the Mayors of Chepen and Pacanga to discuss the project further, presenting them with architectural plans of the new entrance, recently completed by architects Jose Canziani (featured in a recent Photo of the Week) and Paulo Dam. As yet another example of the transforming attitudes of the area toward cultural heritage, the local governments of Chepen and Pacanga have agreed to sponsor the entrance, San Jose de Moro’s newest endeavor in cultural tourism!

Plan for the new entrance from the Pan-American highway.

“This architectural project will drive the economic and social
development in the zone. Its strategic location, next to the Pan-American Highway, will motivate visitors to enter the site as well as sustainably enriching the public space of the town,” said Cusicanqui.

We look forward to seeing more visitors to northern Peru share in San Jose de Moro’s cultural treasures while contributing to the sustainable income of the community!

Female Entrepreneurs Feed San Jose de Moro

By Solsire Cusicanqui and Rebekah Junkermeier

The local residents of San José de Moro, Peru, are not only attracting visitors with their archaeological and artisanal treasures, but with their gastronomical ones as well. This past summer, a group of seven entrepreneurial women in the community started their own business preparing traditional Peruvian lunches for archaeologists, field school students, volunteers, and special guests at the archaeological site.

“We want visitors to learn about our food and to offer them a friendly atmosphere in our homes,” said Ms. Augustina, one of the entrepreneurial chefs. And teach and host they did, preparing traditional dishes from the North Coast such as arroz con pato (rice with duck), espesado (a thick rice soup with meat), and cuy (guinea pig–raised in their homes), as well as natural juices made from local fruits such as passion fruit, papaya, and chichi morada (purple corn). Through their project, foreign and Peruvian visitors alike were able to experience an authentic slice of San José de Moro life. The cultural exchange expanded beyond the food as visitors interacted with the women and their families, discussing recipes and typical dishes from their hometowns and using other students as translators for those who did not speak Spanish. The women have met with significant success: in the month of July, they brought in a total of $2,530 in revenue, an average of $360 for each chef.

The local business was such a hit that at the end of the field season, archaeologists, field school students, and guests held a contest to elect the best chef among the women. Although Augustina, Lidia, Norma, Pilar, Sonia, Flor, and Mara all cooked marvelous meals, only one could be the winner. The students and guests overwhelmingly chose Ms. Augustina as the best and she was awarded a new rice cooker as a prize.

Archaeologists, students, and guests surround Ms. Augustina (front and center) elected best chef.

We applaud the growing role of women in the local job market of San José de Moro and look forward to seeing the future entrepreneurial endeavors of these women and others!