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Entrepreneurship and Empowerment Is Saving this Important Archaeological Site

Pachacamac is one of the longest inhabited ancient settlements in the Americas. An important religious and pilgrimage center, the vast complex is today just 30 miles outside of the Lima, the most populous city in Peru. As a result, Pachacamac faces the threat of invasion and exploitation. Like many archaeological sites in Peru, urban growth has encroached on the area. The site’s perimeter walls create a drastic line between utter spaciousness in the sanctuary and crowded development. Opportunistic land developers periodically organize mobs to knock down the walls protecting the site and claim ownership of the land. The developers then sell the land to those looking to escape the Lima crowds.

The Pachacamac sanctuary is surrounded by urban expansion. Photograph by Carolyn Barnwell
The Pachacamac sanctuary is surrounded by urban expansion. Photograph by Carolyn Barnwell

Denise Pozzi-Escot is the director of the Pachacamac Site Museum. She is committed to protecting the site from all threats to the important cultural heritage. Since 2014, she has worked and partnered with the Sustainable Preservation Initiative (SPI) to ensure a socially responsible approach to protecting the site. SPI is a global not-for-profit organization that creates economic opportunity and stability by giving communities around archaeological sites the tools to be self-reliant, leveraging their historic sites responsibly and freeing them to thrive. The result: the preservation of our collective legacy. SPI’s programs focus on providing local residents, primarily women, with business and artisan skills so they benefit from Pachacamac’s tourism, and therefore rely on its preservation. SPI and the museum organized a group of local women who came together from the area surrounding Pachacamac, These women have formed an organization that they control and run themselves called Sisan (“flowering” in the local Quechua language) where they create and sell products related to the site’s cultural history and iconography. Their business is profitable and self-sustaining, and they are proud defenders of Pachacamac. The Pachacamac Site Museum has a store where artisanal products made by the group and other SPI projects around Peru are sold.

The SPI program not only an economic but also a social hub for disadvantaged women from surrounding communities. Pozzi-Escot says, “To see the way the women—who came here some years ago and were so timid—feel about themselves and have become empowered is an important achievement. For them, SPI and the Pachacamac Site Museum truly means improving their quality of life and it also means knowing who they are and where they want to go.”

A member of Sisan embroiders what will become decoration on shoes. Photograph by Carolyn Barnwell
A member of Sisan embroiders what will become decoration on shoes. Photograph by Carolyn Barnwell

Pachacamac is the most visited site on the central Peruvian coast, and the staff also hosts community and educational programs. For example, children come and learn about archaeological preservation, native plants, and how to make adobe for conserving the ancient architecture.

“I think what makes me most happy is knowing that the people here feel like they are a part of their own history and of Pachacamac,” says Pozzi-Escot. “That is the most important thing.” Pozzi-Escot knows that their activities at the museum and with SPI are connecting cultural heritage to the present-day lives of local people, giving locals a way to better their lives and protect the site from destruction. “One of the satisfactions I have in my work is knowing that we will no longer need the intervention of the police to protect this site,” she said. Only the efforts of those whose lives rely on the preservation of Pachacamac can ensure its existence for the future.

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GlobalXplorer° is a cutting-edge platform that empowers citizen scientists around the world to help reduce looting and encroachment at important archaeological sites—as well as discover and protect unknown sites—using satellite imagery. Find out how you can become part of the GlobalXplorer° community and make a difference, beginning with our first expedition in Peru, at GlobalXplorer.org.

Video Credits:
Senior Producer: Sarah Joseph
Producer: Carolyn Barnwell
Editor: Dave Nathan
Director of Photography: Juan Antonio Puyol
Executive Producer: Vanessa Serrao
Special Thanks: Pachacamac Staff and the Sustainable Preservation Initiative