This summer, team HerodotusExpress are raising money for the Sustainable Preservation Initiative (SPI), a charity which aims to protect cultural heritage around the world by developing economic opportunities for the communities that are based around historic sites. You can read more about the reasons why we are supporting SPI by reading this blog.

Apprentice workshop at San José de Moro (Perù)

A few days ago, I interviewed Dr Paul Burtenshaw, SPI’s Director of Projects, on the charity’s mission and ongoing projects.

What is SPI mission?

Our mission is best encapsulated in ‘Build Futures, Save Pasts’. We create economic opportunities in communities associated with local cultural heritage.  We aim to give communities the tools to be self-reliant and leverage their historic sites responsibly.  Through this we not only provide new opportunities for communities to make them thrive but also help preserve the past.

What made you decide that you wanted to join SPI?

I have been interested in understanding how archaeology and the past can benefit people today for a long time.  I did a Masters degree at University College London (UCL) in Public Archaeology [the branch of archaeology that concentrates on public outreach and on making the discipline relevant to society] and started research into how archaeological sites can provide jobs and economic benefits for local communities. I stayed on at UCL for a PhD in the same subject, with fieldwork in Jordan.  As I did the research, I got to know some of the people interested in the same topic: most of them were actually involved in SPI already in some way.  I was drawn to the organisation as it was really trying to understand the best way to use archaeology to benefit people.

Could you tell me an SPI project you are particularly fond of, and why?

I think this would be our project at Pachacamac (Peru).  Pachacamac is a World Heritage Site outside of the Peruvian capital of Lima. The site itself is incredible, one of the most important ancient pilgrimage centres in South America with huge pyramids and awesome art.  However, better than that are the people we work with on the project.

The project has created a business for women drawn from local settlements who now make products using inspiration and iconography from the archaeology. The settlements themselves are very disadvantaged and many of the women we worked with have never earned their own money before, and had no idea how to run a business. However, the project has been a huge success and the women have completely made the business their own.  It is bringing them real income, and the women are totally in charge.  When you go visit, they show you with pride the great things they make, all the charts showing you how much money they have made. More than the money, there has been a transformation in the women’s confidence and attitude. In the project we are hugely helped by the site museum staff, who are a fantastic team and do everything they can to benefit the people around them. Every time I go there, I am enthused and inspired again.

You guys are mostly active in South America so far. What are your plans for the future?

Our activities in Peru have gone from strength to strength and our projects in Guatemala are also being established. SPI is still a relatively young organisation, beginning in 2010, so what we have learnt in Peru has been vital for us to gain experience and understand how we best do projects. We have made mistakes as we go, but learnt from them all.  We now have a really good methodology for our projects so the plan is to expand globally sharing this experience and knowledge in with local partners and working with them to create projects in their countries.  It’s a really exciting time for SPI as we are developing plans in many different parts of the world, so the next few years while be a busy and interesting period.

What should we do to raise awareness about SPI’s ethos among the communities of Eastern Europe and Central Asia?


I think the main message is that the past is not ‘dead’ but an important resource that can inspire people and provide a tangible impact in their lives.  Archaeological sites are not just somewhere to be visited but can provide real jobs for people and communities.  So I think one important way might be to think of organisations in the places you visit which are trying to help people and raise awareness that cultural heritage can be part of what helps people.  The region you are travelling through is endowed with some of the most wide-ranging and rich cultural heritage in the world.  This heritage should be an important resource not only for identity-building and learning, but also to enrich and create futures – new businesses, new jobs, new opportunities.

Learn more about SPI by reading this blog and checking out their website. Don’t forget to donate here.