Pampas Gramalote is near the small community of Huanchaco, located on the North Coast of Peru about 12 km from the provincial capital of Trujillo and 560 km north of Lima. The community is known for its “caballitos de totora,” reed boats used by Peruvian fishermen 4,000 years ago and still constructed today. Fishing and tourism constitute a large part of the local economy.

Director of excavations at Pampas Gramalote and Yale archaeology PhD student Gabriel Prieto grew up in the impoverished community of Huanchaco. His fellow community members have been deeply interested and involved in his archaeological work, but unable to preserve it alone against the pressures of economic development.  Gabriel’s interest goes beyond the archaeology to improving his community and this passion was just one of the many reasons he was awarded an SPI Grant to initiate a “People Not Stones” initiative there.


Pampas Gramalote is an extraordinary archaeological site, but an endangered one. In the last 25 years, more than fifteen archaeological sites here and in surrounding villages have disappeared due to urban growth. Pampas Gramalote is one of the last archaeological sites in this area that survives, a final remnant of the 4,000-year-old maritime culture that continues to survive today.

In 2011, Gabriel and his team discovered an ancient mass burial of children and llamas. Not only was this discovery featured in National Geographic (see photo journal here), but, in addition, the local municipality of Huanchaco, Peru, recently honored Gabriel for his work.


In February 2012 SPI awarded a $10,000 grant for artisanal and touristic development around Pampas Gramalote, one of the oldest and longest occupied fishing villages on the North Coast of Peru. Similar to our project in San Jose de Moro, this project seeks to create long-term business revenue and employment for local residents, as well as powerful incentives for the community to preserve this extraordinary site.

Our initiative at Pampas Gramalote is investing in a locally-owned and -created tourist center, store, and  “cultural park” that will exhibit at least two excavated areas and teach how people lived 4,000 years ago at the site. Local resident and artisan Ivan Cruz, a master in gourd carving and etching will direct and teach at the new SPI-supported artisan training center. Other local artisans will teach totora and junco reed weaving to create mats and baskets, an ancient tradition still practiced by some of the elder women in the community.  Gourd and woven products will be available for sale in the tourist center, providing a sustainable source of income for local residents. Tourists will also be provided with the opportunity to see local fisherman who still use ancient techniques make and use totora reed boats as in the past. This investment should initially create 6-7 permanent jobs and provide the basis for further nondestructive and sustainable economic development. With such economic opportunities for local residents, we’re aiming to transform lives in the surrounding community AND preserve its archaeological site.

As with all of its projects, SPI tracks the progress and impact of these facilities to measure the long-term effects and sustainability of the project within the community. These results will be available on our website as data is collected and published.


Under the direction of Gabriel Prieto, SPI’s investment in Pampas Gramalote is already economically sustainable. Local residents have created an artisanal workshop, a permanent exhibition area at the site with informative panels, and opened a small store in the nearby beach community of Huanchaco. Ten jobs have been created through this touristic and artisanal program, with trainees receiving practical lessons on how to carve gourds, their traditional uses in Peru and other countries, and their role at the archaeological site of Pampas Gramalote. By instructing other local residents in the art of gourd carving and design, Cruz is empowering fellow community members with the skills to provide themselves and the community with a sustainable income. In March 2012, Gabriel Prieto was honored by the Municipality of Huanchaco, Peru for his work in the community. The community of Huanchaco inaugurated its new artisan store sponsored by the Sustainable Preservation Initiative and the Municipality of Huanchaco on June 1st, 2012, and at the end of June, SPI-supported Cruz offered gourd painting lessons to various groups of schoolchildren from Trujillo at the Inaugural Trujillo Children’s Book Fair, hoping to generate greater interest in the local cultural heritage. 2012 year-to-date sales have exceeded $3,000, with over $1,000 of online sales through NOVICA, an online global platform that connects local artisans to customers around the world.


As Ivan Cruz trains new artisans in the SPI-supported artisan training center, SPI’s project will continue to work towards the construction of the tourist center, store, and  “cultural park” in an effort to attract more tourism to the site.  As an economic asset, the preservation of the archaeological site will be integral to the community’s efforts.