San José de Moro is a small, rural community of approximately 5,000 inhabitants, located on the North Coast of Peru about 700 km north of Lima between the provincial capitals of Trujillo and Chiclayo. The local economy is largely agricultural based, producing primarily rice, corn, and onions. The average daily income for residents is approximately $9.50 per day.


The site is one of the most important cemeteries and ceremonial centers of the Mochica culture and subsequent cultures. The San José de Moro Archaeological Program (SJMAP) began in 1991 and is directed by Dr. Luis Jaime Castillo, professor at Pontificia Universidad Católica del Peru (PUCP) in Lima. SJMAP’s excavations at the Moro site have revealed one of the largest and most complex cemeteries and ceremonial centers used consecutively by hundreds of civilizations such as the Moche, Lambayeque and Chimú. Hundreds of burials, some of them quite complex, have been excavated at the site since 1991, showing that Moro was for along period of time one of the most important ritual center for the north coast civilizations. Some of the most significant finds have been seven chamber burials containing the remains of elite Moche Priestesses, and, associated with them, one of the largest and finest assemblages of ceramics, including several remarkable late Moche fineline ceramics


Before SPI’s involvement in the site, Dr. Luis Jaime Castillo and his team attempted to start a community development program alongside excavations. They tried all of the classical non-sustainable 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. “For years we were doing little contributions to the towns, schools, and to some pressing need, but we could never focus on a long term and sustainable effort that was both different from and integrated with the values and goals of the project,” said Dr. Castillo. He realized a sustainable economic-based paradigm was required. In March 2010 SPI awarded a $48,000 grant for artisanal and touristic development around the Moche cemetery site of San José de Moro (Moro), on the north coast of Peru. The project seeks to create long-term business revenue and employment for local residents, as well as powerful incentives for the community to preserve this important site. In this way, the local population will view keeping their rich archaeological patrimony as a source of income and progress, and not an impediment to its natural growth. The development plan features the patented SPI-designed visitors and training center, incorporating a crafts workshop, store and exhibition area. Tourists are able to witness artisans producing their wares as well as purchase the finished artisanal products. The workshop includes training for additional local artisans and provides tourists with the unprecedented opportunity to participate in the ceramic making process. Adjacent to the exhibition centre are a picnic and rest area, small snack bar, and toilet facilities, also constructed with the SPI grant.  A new entrance to the site, replete with Moche motifs and colors, was created and painted. 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.


SPI’s San Jose de Moro, Peru project was awarded the First International Tourism Cares/Turismo Cuida Award in August 2013. Sponsored by the world’s leading travel and tourism companies, the award is given for outstanding work in sustainability and preservation, both of which are critical to SPI’s mission. The award recognizes both the job creation (22 new permanent jobs) from tourist development and the resultant end to looting at the site. The accompanying $15,000 grant will aid our continued work on sustainable tourism and economic, social and cultural development at Moro. Under the direction of Luis Jaime Castillo, and the management of Solsire Cuscanqui, SPI employed more than 22 individuals from the community to work on the construction of the new workshop, exhibition and store facilities, and tourism amenities. The visitors center was completed within 6 months and opened with an inauguration celebration planned with the community. 12 residents of San Jose de Moro are employed at the artisan workshop and tourist center. Julio Ibarrola, a ceramicist renowned for his replicas of late Moche fineline ceramics like those excavated at the Moro site, and Eloy Uriarte, a blacksmith specializing in archaeological tools and implements, both direct the workshop. Under Julio’s direction teenagers from the community have learned the tradition of creating the replicas of the Moche fineline ceramics.  Once the students have reached a sufficient level of craftsman ship they go on to sell their display and sell their wares within the exhibition and store facilities. The teenagers receive 80% of the revenue earned on the sale of the items they have produced. They invest the remaining money in the project to pay for raw materials and facility maintenance. Prior to the SPI project, almost all of the visitors to San Jose de Moro were local Peruvians, school children and the occasional foreign tourist who was well read in archaeology. The new center and project has attracted visitors and buses from several international and foreign tour companies, many of which are now incorporating San Jose de Moro into their regular itineraries. Community members and Peruvian archaeologists have prepared both the guidebook and brochure to the site. The brochures are free and the guidebooks on sale at site and within the tourist center serve to generate further income and support tourism. Felix Salmon, a financial columnist for Reuters, calls our creation of more than 12 jobs and substantial income from the tourism facilities “impressive.”  The artisans sold almost $2,000 in one record-setting day in July 2011. In 2012, the total sales of SPI-supported entrepreneurs has reached over $11,000, more than double last year’s total. The demand for the local artisans’ handmade works of art continues to grow: Master artisan Julio Ibarrola recently received an order from a major Peruvian University for 100 of his ceramics, and NOVICA, an online global platform that connects local artisans to customers around the globe, nearly sold out of Julio’s work this holiday season. These results have inspired entrepreneurship and economic development throughout the town, with five new shops having opened this year to serve the burgeoning tourist and artisanal demand. As stated by Luis Jaime Castillo, ‘SPI is helping to turn an important archeological site into a source of tourism-related cash for a poor local community, thereby creating an enormous incentive to protect that site rather than looting it or building on it. And, of course, creating jobs, too’. Local residents now view the site as a valuable economic asset, and the key to sustainable community income, a sea change from its prior attitudes ranging from diffidence to hostility.


The SPI project has inspired significant community and local government support to enhance further the touristic experience at the site.  The municipality of Chepen has paid for additional guidebooks and brochures for use by its tourist board and is funding the construction of  a new entrance to the site off the Pan-American Highway and new site museum. SPI’s future plans include additional interpretative signage and and a guide-training program for local residents, primarily students at the local high school. We are looking for sponsors for the creation of interpretive plaques within the tourist center as well as the guide training. For more on how to support these projects or any other SPI initiatives, visit our Get Involved page.