Harvard Summer Program in San Jose de Moro, Peru

June 23, 2017 to July 30, 2017
Apply by: 
January 26, 2017

An archaeological exploration of Andean prehistory.
The San José de Moro Archaeological Project (SJMAP) distinguishes itself as one of the most important international archaeological projects currently under way in Peru.

At SJMAP field school, you learn the fundamentals of the practice of archaeology, including excavation, documentation, and analysis. One of the primary objectives is to understand the development and collapse of the complex coastal societies through the study of funerary and ceremonial practices in the San José cemetery. 

The SJMAP field school also offers the Physical Anthropology Program. If you choose this option, you have the opportunity to analyze human remains excavated at the site.

Under the direction of professional osteologists, you receive training in the identification and characterization of pathologies and demographic indicators both in the field and within the laboratory.

Read about one student's experience at San José de Moro in a Harvard Gazette article

Program Structure

You begin the program by traveling by van from Lima overland to the coastal city of Trujillo where you visit the principal pyramids of the Moche capital, the Huacas del Sol and Luna. From Trujillo, you travel to the highland city of Cajamarca, visiting historic sites in the city.

You then travel to the region of Chachapoyas, passing over the Marañon River and visiting the Museum at Leymebamba, the colonial city of La Jalka, and the archaeological site of Kuelap.

Finally, you travel to the town of Pacasmayo, on the coast, where the students will be based for the remainder of the course under the direct supervision of Professors Castillo and Urton.

More about SJMAP

The San José de Moro Archaeological Project (SJMAP) distinguishes itself as one of the most important international archaeological projects currently under way in Peru. Excavations and related studies at San José de Moro have uncovered tombs, architecture, and other objects. These have helped scholars understand traditions, beliefs, artwork, and governmental forms of ancient societies of the region.

An outstanding discovery at the SJMAP the was the burial site of some of the most important women known in the Andes, the tombs of Moche priestesses.

The SJMAP is sponsored by the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Peru and has participants from European, North and South American, and Peruvian universities. The program has been directed by Luis Jaime Castillo Butters since 1991.

A primary objective of the project is to understand the development and collapse of the complex coastal societies through the study of funerary and ceremonial practices in the San José cemetery.

This information complements a broader perspective of coastal cultures developed through systematic explorations at different archaeological sites in the valley, including Pacatnamu and San Ildefonso, where some of the 2011 research activities was conducted. 

To date, the SJMAP boasts more than 600 excavated burials, making it one of the richest and most diverse cemeteries professionally studied in Peru. In San José tombs, elaborately decorated Moche pottery, metal objects, and many other remains of high artistic and scientific value are commonly found.

These and many other aspects of the San José de Moro site make it an excellent location to learn and develop basic skills in the practice of archaeology. Within its research methodology, SJMAP is committed to the application of innovative digital technologies to the study of archaeological remains. One of these techniques is the employment of drones, as opposed to larger manned aircrafts, for aerial photography. 

In addition, SJMAP has among its objectives the community development of the modern town of San Jose de Moro that surrounds the monuments, with the goal of creating a lasting bond between its population and the archaeological site in a way that promotes the conservation of cultural heritage.

At the same time, SJMAP considers that it is of paramount importance to facilitate interactions between the program and local youth, and has an active presence at nearby schools to strengthen ideas heritage identity in relation to the preservation of the archaeological site.  


ANTH S-1178 counts as 4 credits of archaeological field method credit and 4 credits of independent study credit in anthropology.

ANTH S-1178 The Archaeology Field School at San José de Moro, Peru: Methods, Techniques, and Andean Prehistory (33771)

Gary Urton
Luis Jaime Castillo Butters
8 credits
UN, GR Limited enrollment.

Students spend more than 180 hours doing archaeological work at San José de Moro and other nearby sites of importance. Supervisors of each study area, trained archaeologists working under Professor Castillo, teach students basic concepts of archaeological excavation, registry of materials, and technical drawing of excavation areas. Additionally, the program provides resources for developing skills in digital photography of archaeological artifacts in the field laboratory. Another important component of the project is the ethnographic study of contemporary potters producing everyday ceramics and artisans who craft replicas of ancient pottery. Programmed activities also include archaeological explorations at other sites in the valley as well as visits to nearby research projects by both Peruvian and foreign archaeologists. Students also visit the Royal Tombs of Sipán, the Site Museum of Túcume, and the National Museum at Sicán.

Evenings generally consist of free time. Periodically, however, the program offers academic lectures by other archaeologists working on the north coast including many noted scholars, both foreign and domestic. In addition, the investigation team's European and American doctoral students offer presentations of their own research interests. San José de Moro Archaeological Project (SJMAP) supports sustainable community development through funds provided by the Sustainable Preservation Initiative, which aims at developing small businesses communities like San José de Moro and provides much needed assistance to local schools. Students of the program have the chance to participate in these activities.

Prerequisite: no previous fieldwork experience required. An advanced level of Spanish is not required, as all members of the SJMAP staff speak both English and Spanish. However, it is advisable for students to have basic knowledge of Spanish to facilitate interaction with the local population.

Where You Live and Study

San José de Moro is a small village in the Jequetepeque Valley, on the north coast of Peru. In pre-Columbian times it was the site of one of the most important cemeteries and ceremonial centers of the Moche and later cultures. In 1991, a group of archaeologists began to excavate at San José de Moro and through the years revealed one of the richest archaeological sites in Peru.

It is an ideal location for an immersive introduction to the practice of archaeology and Peruvian culture.


For most of the program, you live in the project’s residence, located in a comfortable hotel in the small coastal town of Pacasmayo, which overlooks the Pacific Ocean. Many amenities are available at Pacasmayo, including restaurants, a market, pharmacies, medical clinic, internet facilities, postal service, money exchange offices, and churches. Bus transportation will be provided between Pacasmayo and the field sites.

Physical requirements

Archaeological fieldwork is physically intense and often rigorous. You work in the field, excavating under the sun, climbing among excavation units from Monday to Saturday. Since some of the most interesting, little explored, and pristine sites are remote, traveling there requires hiking and even climbing steep hills. No special training is required, but a reasonable level of fitness is advisable. However, a lighter schedule can be arranged for those with physical challenges.

How to Apply

The application deadline has passed.

Review How to Apply before submitting your application.

Application materials include: 

  1. A statement of interest in the program

    • Include information on relevant coursework and travel experience abroad (previous travel is not required) 

  2. Transcripts
    • Harvard College applicants: You may submit an unofficial transcript accessed from my.harvard.edu
    • Non-Harvard applicants: Submit an official transcript from your university
  3. A $50 nonrefundable application fee

Note: Interviews may be requested.

All application materials were due January 26, 2017. You will be notified of admission decisions by mid- to late-February.


The program fee includes tuition, accommodation, scheduled excursions and activities, and some meals.  

See Funding and Payment for information on how to submit payments and funding options. 

Student budget

In addition to the program fee, you will need to budget for a number of personal expenses: 

  • International airfare ($1,400 to $1,600)
  • Local transportation ($100)
  • Some meals ($250)
  • Personal expenditures, laundry, communications, and miscellaneous ($400)

Please note: The amounts are approximate, and you may incur additional expenses not listed here. Your actual expenses will depend on a number of factors, including your personal spending habits and currency exchange rates. If you have specific questions about budgeting, please contact the program directly.

Additional Information