The Cusichaca Project: Leadership in the Face of Adversity

Written by Sean Macmillan, Project Archivist |

Explore the social achievements of one of the most exciting south-American archaeological projects of the 20th century...

The Cusichaca Trust was an archaeological project in the Peruvian Andes that began in 1977 and concluded in 2013. The project was initially archaeological in focus, but soon progressed into rural development as the Trust worked with Peruvian locals to revitalise various Inca settlements and indigenous communities, located near the famous Machu Picchu site. 

The Trust’s archive is available at Senate House library and chronicles the archaeological achievements as well as the incredible social accomplishments, the latter being the focus of this blog. 

Dr Ann Kendall crossing a river in the Cusichaca area circa 1980-85

Leading in Unknown Climates & Uncertain Times

While the backdrop was undoubtedly breathtaking, the conditions and circumstances were not always kind. The Cusichaca team had to contend with unimaginably high altitudes, a dearth of home comforts and outbreaks of disease such as Hepatitis, which made the commitment and accomplishments of the Trust’s staff even more striking. This was all bravely led by the dynamic and adventurous, Dr Ann Kendall, founder and director of the Cusichaca Trust. 

Just as the embers of one project were beginning to burn out, Dr Ann Kendall would be sowing the seeds for the next one. The transition from project to another almost appears seamless though in practice it demanded great logistical planning, especially when faced with outbreaks and a challenging topography. Kendall’s ability to manage time was almost as impressive as her ability to manage people, money, resources, and ideas. Her command of the tools at her disposal, allowed her to construct one masterpiece after another. The Cusichaca archive charts how Kendall managed this gargantuan task, and how she steered the ship with a uniquely talented crew, across rough waters in the quest to use archaeology to revive a community. 

A clip from the Horizon programme Valley of the Incas circa 1980s. Taken from original footage in the Cusichaca Trust archive held at Senate House Library.

Challenges and threats

In the last quarter of the 20th century, Peru suffered immense political upheaval and a group of predominantly North European’s would not have naturally fit in within their newfound surroundings. There was a genuine concern for safety as terrorist groups and insurgent forces often posed a very real and worrying threat to the largely isolated Cusichaca staff. One former archaeologist from the project commented: “We had a plan if the terrorists came for us”. Dr Ann Kendall’s work with local communities, governments, health organisations, and even the British Army, had brought people together to learn from each other, with Ann being the lynchpin. 

The Cusichaca team may have resembled a fish out of water at the very beginning of the project, but by the end of the project and through Dr Ann Kendall’s leadership, they had mastered their surroundings and carved their mark on the historic Peruvian landscape. Kendall and her staff’s vision was so strong, that they could overcome almost any obstacle that they came across.

Ann Kendall: a women of many talents

Ann Kendall was a relentless combination of genius, energy, and perseverance. She played a part in almost every aspect of the Trust’s operation, including archaeology, rural development, negotiations with the Peruvian authorities, and outreach. As resources were stretched, Kendall undertook a variety of roles. In the morning, Kendall could be an archaeologist, in the early afternoon she could be an ambassador trying to work with the Peruvian government, in the late afternoon she could a human resources director, and in the evening she could be a community & engagement manager.

John Hemming, who worked with the Anglo-Peruvian society and knew Ann Kendall, commented:

It was truly remarkable how Dr Kendall organised and financed the large teams that did this excellent work, every year throughout the 1980s and 1990s and into the twenty-first century, without the benefit of a local British School (as exist around the Mediterranean and Middle East). The grateful Peruvian nation rightly awarded her its Orden al Mérito Público and the UK gave an OBE.

Celebrating the life & work of Dr Ann Kendall OBE - video footage from Cusichaca Archives

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