Empowering Entrepreneurs to Save Cultural Heritage

Returning stolen objects does not save archaeological sites, creating jobs does. Especially the right kind of jobs.
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Returning stolen objects does not save archaeological sites, creating jobs does. Especially the right kind of jobs.

The Getty, Metropolitan Museum of Art and other similar institutions have repatriated artifacts that were looted from archaeological sites. Most museums have modified their stated policies with respect to the acquisition of unprovenanced objects and will no longer purchase them. Yet 90 percent of Lydian tombs, 80 percent of Etruscan antiquities and nearly three-fourths of sites in Belize are estimated to have been looted. Illegal digging for saleable artifacts have devastated over 100,000 burials in each of Apulia and Peru.

Why are archaeological sites around the world continuing to be destroyed and damaged at an accelerating rate? Why is our past disappearing before our eyes? To paraphrase James Carville, it's the local economy! When looting, agriculture or residential construction on a site provides more jobs and income to a community, that's how the community will use it.

Consider the ancient cemetery and ritual center of San Jose de Moro, Peru, renowned for its hundreds of fine burials and for the famous Moche bird priestesses entombed there. For the last twenty years, in spite of the best efforts of the Peruvian archaeologist Dr. Luis Jaime Castillo and his SJM Archaeological Project, the site has been substantially looted and shrunk dramatically as local residents have built houses and planted crops atop the ancient burials. Castillo tried all of all of the classic paradigms to preserve the site and help the local community: conservation, education of the local community, museums, yet by his own admission none of these were effective.

Desperate to halt the site's destruction, Castillo in 2010 teamed with the not-for-profit Sustainable Preservation Initiative ("SPI"), whose "People not Stones" paradigm creates and supports locally-owned businesses whose success is tied to the continued preservation of archaeological sites. SPI invested $40,000 to construct a visitors center, crafts workshop, store and exhibition area where local artisans could sell their wares. The workshop includes training for additional local artisans as well as basic education in tourism and business management. Peruvian archaeologists and local residents wrote bilingual brochures and guidebooks. Two local artisans and lifelong residents of San Jose de Moro, Julio Ibarrola, a master ceramicist, and Eloy Uriarte, a metalworker, signed on to run the visitor's center and artisanal programs.

The project created 20 temporary construction jobs, and ten permanent ones in 2011. The economic growth added an additional ten permanent jobs in 2012 -- ceramicists, weavers, cooks and others serving the tourist industry. That's 40 jobs for a $40,000 investment, one job per $1,000 invested!

In 2010, prior to the collaboration with SPI, local artisans sold $265 of products to tourists. In 2011, they sold over $5,000 and in 2012 over $10,000. This income growth is extraordinary considering that the daily wage, when work is available in town, is under ten dollars per day!

And that's not all! Three new snack bars and another ceramic replica stand have opened around the site, creating several new jobs dependent upon the archaeological site. The local tourism board has been revived and is promoting this site and others in the region domestically and internationally. Lima Tours, Peru's largest tour agency, has placed the site on its regular itineraries and its employees have come to Moro to repaint the town's schools.

And site destruction, encroachment and looting have ceased!! Not a single incident since the commencement of the SPI economic development project. Those whose living depends on the site, and those who see the economic potential of preserving it, are making sure that nothing bad happens to the ancient cemetery!

Seeing the benefits of preservation, local government is getting in on the act. Moro's municipal government, which had never made an investment in the site, is creating a new entrance, signage and parking area (not on top of the site!). The regional government is placing security at other sites in anticipation of further economic development and a regional tourism approach! More ites , more jobs created!!

Unfortunately, far too few people,know of either the great poverty of these communities, or of the loss of their archaeological sites., So SPI has launched a crowdfunding campaign to repeat the Moro phenomenon at other important endangered sites. SPI believe that crowdfunding has a critical role in saving sites, transforming lives, empowering entrepreneurs and alleviating poverty. A grassroots campaign to help people on a grassroots level.

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