Getty Foundation donates $1.3m to preserve Arizona national monument

The Wupatki National Monument contains an ancient Indigenous complex and more than 5,000 adjacent archaeological sites

The Wupatki Pueblo rises four stories above the landscape and is made up of over one hundred rooms

The Wupatki Pueblo rises four stories above the landscape and is made up of over one hundred rooms

The Wupatki National Monument in Arizona, the site of a prodigious ancient pueblo and more than 5,000 exceptionally well-preserved archeological sites, has received a $1.3m grant from The Getty Foundation. The grant will fund a long-term conservation project that aims to address threats to the site from climate change and increased tourism.

The national monument is nestled in the northern Arizona highlands, a panoramic high desert landscape with dramatic red-rock outcroppings. The 900-year-old Wupatki Pueblo—a complex containing over 100 rooms including an above-ground community room, a ballcourt and geological ventilation features—was stabilised with concrete mortar in the 1930s when the first excavations took place in the region. Most of the restoration work was removed in the 1950s, when concerns around erroneous restoration first arose.

More than 200,000 tourists visit the monument annually. The nearly 36,000-acre site also comprises more than 95 percent of undeveloped ground dotted with thousands of pictographs pecked onto the surface of the rocks, featuring striking geometric and anthropomorphic designs.

Like other archeological sites in the Western US, areas surrounding the Wupatki monument have been subject to vandalism in the past. Sites yet to be excavated remain vulnerable to looting.

Indigenous tribes are thought to have inhabited the area as early as the 11th century and several federally-recognised tribes claim ancestral association with the site, including the Hopi, Zuni, Navajo, Yavapai, Havasupai, Hualapai and several bands of Apache and Paiute.

The grant marks the first time Getty will support the preservation of Indigenous heritage in the region. “The Getty Foundation strives to support conservation projects around the world where we can simultaneously invest in building local capacity and advance the preservation field in general,” Joan Weinstein, director of the Getty Foundation, tells The Art Newspaper.

“The Wupatki project represents a major step towards acknowledging climate change as one of the most critical issues in preservation today and simultaneously creates an opportunity for tribal communities, the US National Park Service and leading conservation professionals to work together on saving an archaeological site of major cultural significance,” she says.

The project is being overseen by The University of Pennsylvania’s Stuart Weitzman School of Design’s Center for Architectural Conservation (CAC), which will focus on finding the best ways to prevent accelerated deterioration of the site. The centre will also launch a 12-week internship programme for Indigenous youth, with a focus on the conservation of Indigenous ancestral sites.

“Identifying the vulnerabilities of sites like Wupatki is perhaps the most critical challenge currently facing all cultural and natural resource managers today,” Frank Matero, the director of CAC, says in a statement. “Mitigation, resilience and adaptation—in the form of renewed cultural partnerships with affiliated tribal communities—will move the conservation needs front and center in this model project.”