2,600-year-old Buddhist monastery in Afghanistan under threat

From Huffington Post:

It was another day on the rocky hillside, as archaeologists and laborers dug out statues of Buddha and excavated a sprawling 2,600-year-old Buddhist monastery. A Chinese woman in slacks, carrying an umbrella against the Afghan sun, politely inquired about their progress.

She had more than a passing interest. The woman represents a Chinese company eager to develop the world’s second-biggest unexploited copper mine, lying beneath the ruins.

The mine is the centerpiece of China’s drive to invest in Afghanistan, a country trying to get its economy off the ground while still mired in war. Beijing’s $3.5 billion stake in the mine – the largest foreign investment in Afghanistan by far – gets its foot in the door for future deals to exploit Afghanistan’s largely untapped mineral wealth, including iron, gold and cobalt. The Afghan government stands to reap a potential $1.2 billion a year in revenues from the mine, as well as the creation of much-needed jobs.

But Mes Aynak is caught between Afghanistan’s hopes for the future and its history. Archaeologists are rushing to salvage what they can from a major seventh century B.C. religious site along the famed Silk Road connecting Asia and the Middle East. The ruins, including the monastery and domed shrines known as “stupas,” will likely be largely destroyed once work at the mine begins.

Ancient Buddha statues inside a temple in Mes Aynak

Hanging over the situation is the memory of the Buddhas of Bamiyan – statues towering up to 180 feet high in central Afghanistan that were dynamited to the ground in 2001 by the country’s then-rulers, the Taliban, who considered them symbols of paganism.

No one wants to be blamed for similarly razing history at Mes Aynak, in the eastern province of Logar. The Chinese government-backed China Metallurgical Group Corp., or MCC, wanted to start building the mine by the end of 2011. But under an informal understanding with the Kabul government, it has given archaeologists three years for a salvage excavation.

Archaeologists working on the site since May say that won’t be enough time for full preservation.

“That site is so massive that it’s easily a 10-year campaign of archaeology,” said Laura Tedesco, an archaeologist brought in by the U.S. Embassy to work on sites in Afghanistan. Three years may be enough time just to document what’s there, she said.

Philippe Marquis, a French archaeologist advising the Afghans, said the salvage effort is piecemeal and “minimal,” held back by lack of funds and personnel.

Around 15 Afghan archaeologists, three French advisers and a few dozen laborers are working within the 2-square-kilometer (0.77-square-mile) area – a far smaller team than the two dozen archaeologists and 100 laborers normally needed for a site of such size and richness.

“This is probably one of the most important points along the Silk Road,” said Marquis. “What we have at this site, already in excavation, should be enough to fill the (Afghan) national museum.”

The ruins, including the monastery and domed shrines, will likely be largely destroyed once work at the mine begins

The monastery complex has been dug out, revealing hallways and rooms decorated with frescoes and filled with clay and stone statues of standing and reclining Buddhas, some as high as 10 feet. An area that was once a courtyard is dotted with stupas standing four or five feet high.

More than 150 statues have been found so far, though many remain in place. Large ones are too heavy to be moved, and the team lacks the chemicals needed to keep small ones from disintegrating when extracted.

MCC appears to be pushing the archaeologists to finish ahead of schedule. In July, the archaeologists received a letter from the company asking that parts of the dig be wrapped up by August and the rest to be done by the end of 2010.

A copy of the letter – signed by MJAM, the acronym for the joint venture in charge of the mine, MCC-JCL Aynak Minerals Co. – was provided to The Associated Press by the head of the archaeological team. MCC and MJAM officials did not respond to requests for comment.

August has come and gone, and excavations at Mes Aynak continue. But the Afghan archaeologist overseeing the dig said he has no idea when MCC representatives might tell him his work is over. So he tries not to think about deadlines.

“We would like to work according to our principles. If we don’t work according to the principles of archaeology, then we are no different from traffickers,” Abdul Rauf Zakir said.

The team hopes to lift some of the larger statues and shrines out before winter sets in this month, but they still haven’t procured the crane and other equipment needed.

Mes Aynak, 20 miles (30 kilometers) south of Kabul, lies in a province that is still considered a major transit route for insurgents coming from Pakistan. In July, two U.S. sailors were kidnapped and killed in Logar. Around 1,500 Afghan police guard the mine site and the road.

Promised funding from foreign governments has yet to materialize. The Afghan government has allotted $2 million for the dig and is trying to find another $5 million to $10 million, said Deputy Culture Minister Omar Sultan.

The United States has promised funding but hasn’t yet figured out how much, said a U.S. Embassy spokeswoman, Mireille Zieseniss.

Mes Aynak’s religious sites and copper deposits have been bound together for centuries – “mes” means “copper” in the local Dari language. Throughout the site’s history, artisanal miners have dug up copper to adorn statues and shrines.

Afghan archaeologists have known since the 1960s about the importance of Mes Aynak, but almost nothing had been excavated. When the Chinese won the contract to exploit the mine in 2008, there was no discussion with Kabul about the ruins – only about money, security and building a railroad to transport the copper out of Logar’s dusty hills.

But a small band of Afghan and French archaeologists raised a stir and put the antiquities on the agenda.

The mine could be a major boost for the Afghan economy. According to the Afghan Mining Ministry, it holds some 6 million tons of copper (5.52 million metric tons), worth tens of billions of dollars at today’s prices. Developing the mine and related transport infrastructure will generate much needed jobs and economic activity.

Waheedullah Qaderi, a Mining Ministry official working on the antiquities issue, said MCC shares the government goal of protecting heritage while starting mining as soon as possible.

A good resolution is important for MCC “because it is their first-ever project in Afghanistan,” Qaderi said. MCC is expected to make an offer for another lucrative mineral prize – the Hajigak iron mine in central Afghanistan, estimated to hold 1.9 billion tons (1.8 billion metric tonnes) of iron ore. Kabul opened bidding to develop the mine in late September and is expected to award the contract late this year or in early 2011.

Still, a diplomat briefed on internal meetings says MCC has pressured Kabul to stop archaeologists from looking for new places to dig beyond the 12 sites already found. The diplomat spoke anonymously because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Marquis said MCC has been cooperative and has helped the archaeologists, hauling dirt away and asking what more needs to be done.

Zakir, the Afghan archaeologist, laughs. “Yes, they are very helpful. They want to help so that we can finish quickly. They want us gone.”

From Huffington Post.

Advertisements

The Black Death came from China

From NYTimes:

The great waves of plague that twice devastated Europe and changed the course of history had their origins in China, a team of medical geneticists reported Sunday, as did a third plague outbreak that struck less harmfully in the 19th century.

And in separate research, a team of biologists reported conclusively this month that the causative agent of the most deadly plague, the Black Death, was the bacterium known as Yersinia pestis. This agent had always been the favored cause, but a vigorous minority of biologists and historians have argued the Black Death differed from modern cases of plague studied in India, and therefore must have had a different cause.

 

Triumph of death by Peter Breughel

The Black Death began in Europe in 1347 and carried off an estimated 30 percent or more of the population of Europe. For centuries the epidemic continued to strike every 10 years or so, its last major outbreak being the Great Plague of London from 1665 to 1666. The disease is spread by rats and transmitted to people by fleas or, in some cases, directly by breathing.

One team of biologists, led by Barbara Bramanti of the Institut Pasteur in Paris and Stephanie Haensch of Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany, analyzed ancient DNA and proteins from plague pits, the mass burial grounds across Europe in which the dead were interred. Writing in the journal PLoS Pathogens this month, they say their findings put beyond doubt that the Black Death was brought about by Yersinia pestis.

Dr. Bramanti’s team was able to distinguish two strains of the Black Death plague bacterium, which differ both from each other and from the three principal strains in the world today. They infer that medieval Europe must have been invaded by two different sources of Yersinia pestis. One strain reached the port of Marseilles on France’s southern coast in 1347, spread rapidly across France and by 1349 had reached Hereford, a busy English market town and pilgrimage center near the Welsh border.

 

Dance of Death by Michael Wolgemut (1493)

The strain of bacterium analyzed from the bones and teeth of a Hereford plague pit dug in 1349 is identical to that from a plague pit of 1348 in southern France, suggesting a direct route of travel. But a plague pit in the Dutch town of Bergen op Zoom has bacteria of a different strain, which the researchers infer arrived from Norway.

The Black Death is the middle of three great waves of plague that have hit in historical times. The first appeared in the 6th century during the reign of the Byzantine emperor Justinian, reaching his capital, Constantinople, on grain ships from Egypt. The Justinian plague, as historians call it, is thought to have killed perhaps half the population of Europe and to have eased the Arab takeover of Byzantine provinces in the Near East and Africa.

The third great wave of plague began in China’s Yunnan province in 1894, emerged in Hong Kong and then spread via shipping routes throughout the world. It reached the United States through a plague ship from Hong Kong that docked at Hawaii, where plague broke out in December 1899, and then San Francisco, whose plague epidemic began in March 1900.

The three plague waves have now been tied together in common family tree by a team of medical geneticists led by Mark Achtman of University College Cork in Ireland. By looking at genetic variations in living strains of Yersinia pestis, Dr. Achtman’s team has reconstructed a family tree of the bacterium. By counting the number of genetic changes, which clock up at a generally steady rate, they have dated the branch points of the tree, which enables the major branches to be correlated with historical events.

In the issue of Nature Genetics published online Sunday, they conclude that all three of the great waves of plague originated from China, where the root of their tree is situated. Plague would have reached Europe across the Silk Road, they say. An epidemic of plague that reached East Africa was probably spread by the voyages of the Chinese admiral Zheng He who led a fleet of 300 ships to Africa in 1409.

“What’s exciting is that we are able to reconstruct the historical routes of bacterial disease over centuries,” Dr. Achtman said.

Lester K. Little, an expert on the Justinian plague at Smith College, said in an interview from Bergamo, Italy, that the epidemic was first reported by the Byzantine historian Procopius in 541 A.D. from the ancient port of Pelusium, near Suez in Egypt. Historians had assumed it arrived there from the Red Sea or Africa, but the Chinese origin now suggested by the geneticists is possible, Dr. Little said.

The geneticists’ work is “immensely impressive,” Dr. Little said, and adds a third leg to the studies of plague by historians and by archaeologists.

The likely origin of the plague in China has nothing to do with its people or crowded cities, Dr. Achtman said. The bacterium has no interest in people, whom it slaughters by accident. Its natural hosts are various species of rodent such as marmots and voles, which are found throughout China.

From NYTimes.

2010 inscriptions on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List

From UNESCO WHC (source 1, source 2, source 3, source 4):

The World Heritage Committee meeting in Brasilia today inscribed the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (Tanzania) as a cultural property on the World Heritage List. The Committee made its decision because of the extraordinary record of human evolution at the site, which spans a vast area of land from the Serengeti National Park in the north-west of Tanzania to the eastern arm of the Great Rift Valley. The property had previously been inscribed on the List as a natural site.

Archaeological research in the area has also yielded a long sequence of evidence of human evolution and human-environment dynamics, collectively spanning almost four million years to the early modern era. This evidence includes the fossilized footprints at Laetoli, associated with the development of the human ability to walk upright; a sequence of diverse, evolving hominim species from Australopiths to Homo erectus and Homo sapiens; and remains that document the development of stone technology and the transition to the use of iron.

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area also contains the spectacular Ngorongoro Crater, which is the world’s largest caldera, and the Olduvai Gorge, one of the world’s most important pre-historic sites, where anthropologists Louis and Mary Leakey made many of their greatest discoveries. The area has global importance for biodiversity conservation and was first inscribed on the World Heritage List as a natural site in 1979.

The World Heritage Committee meeting in Brasilia has inscribed sites in Saudi Arabia, Australia, India, Islamic Republic of Iran and, for the first time, a site in the Marshall Islands, as well as the Republic of Korea on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The latest sites inscribed include (in order of inscription):

At Turaif District in ad-Dir’iyah (Saudi Arabia)

This property was the first capital of the Saudi Dynasty, in the heart of the Arabian Penisula, north-west of Riyadh. Founded in the 15th century, it bears witness to the Najdi architectural style, which is specific to the centre of the Arabian  peninsula. In the 18th and early 19th century, its political and religious role increased, and the citadel at at-Turaif became the centre of the temporal power of the House of Saud and the spread of the Wahhabi reform inside the Muslim religion. The property includes the remains of many palaces and an urban ensemble built on the edge of the ad-Dir’iyah oasis.

Australian Convict Sites (Australia)

The property includes a selection of 11 penal sites, among the thousands established by the British Empire on Australian soil in the 18th and 19th centuries. They are located on the fertile coastal strip from which the Aboriginal peoples were then forced back, mainly around Sydney and in Tasmania, as well as on Norfolk Island and in Fremantle. They housed tens of thousands of men, women and children condemned by British justice to transportation to the convict colonies. Each of the sites had a specific purpose, in terms both of punitive imprisonment and of rehabilitation through forced labour to help build the colony. The property presents the best surviving examples of large-scale convict transportation and the colonial expansion of European powers through the presence and labour of convicts.

Jantar Mantar (India)

The Jantar Mantar, in Jaipur, is an astronomical observation site built in the early 18th century. It includes a set of some 20 main fixed instruments. They are monumental examples in masonry of known instruments but which in many cases have specific characteristics of their own. Designed for the observation of astronomical positions with the naked eye, they embody several architectural and instrumental innovations. This is the most significant, most comprehensive, and the best preserved of India’s historic observatories. It is an expression of the astronomical skills and cosmological concepts of the court of a scholarly prince at the end of the Mughal period.

Sheikh Safi al-Din Khānegāh and Shrine Ensemble in Ardabil (Islamic Republic of Iran)

Built between the beginning of the 16th century and the end of the 18th century, this place of spiritual retreat in the Sufi tradition uses Iranian traditional architectural forms to maximize use of available space to accommodate a variety of functions (including a library, a mosque, a school, mausolea, a cistern, a hospital, kitchens, a bakery, and some offices). It incorporates a route to reach the shrine of the Sheikh divided into seven segments, which mirror the seven stages of Sufi mysticism, separated by eight gates, which represent the eight attitudes of Sufism. The ensemble includes well-preserved and richly ornamented facades and interiors, with a remarkable collection of antique artefacts. It constitutes a rare ensemble of elements of medieval Islamic architecture.

Tabriz Historic Bazaar Complex (Islamic Republic of Iran)

Tabriz has been a place of cultural exchange since antiquity and its historic bazaar complex is one of the most important commercial centres on the Silk Road. Tabriz Historic Bazaar Complex consists of a series of interconnected, covered, brick structures, buildings, and enclosed spaces for different functions. Tabriz and its Bazaar were already prosperous and famous in the 13th century, when the town, in the province of Eastern Azerbaijan, became the capital city of the Safavid kingdom. The city lost its status as capital in the 16th century, but remained important as a commercial hub until the end of the 18th century, with the expansion of Ottoman power. It is one of the most complete examples of the traditional commercial and cultural system of Iran.

Bikini Atoll (Marshall Islands)

In the wake of World War II, in a move closely related to the beginnings of the Cold War, the United States of America decided to resume nuclear testing in the Pacific Ocean, on Bikini Atoll in the Marshall archipelago. After the displacement of the local inhabitants, 67 nuclear tests were carried out from 1946 to 1958, including the explosion of the first H-bomb (1952). Bikini Atoll has conserved direct tangible evidence that is highly significant in conveying the power of the nuclear tests, i.e. the sunken ships sent to the bottom of the lagoon by the tests in 1946 and the gigantic Bravo crater. Equivalent to 7,000 times the force of the Hiroshima bomb, the tests had major consequences on the geology and natural environment of Bikini Atoll and on the health of those who were exposed to radiation. Through its history, the atoll symbolises the dawn of the nuclear age, despite its paradoxical image of peace and of earthly paradise. This is the first site from the Marshall Islands to be inscribed on the World Heritage List.

Historic Villages of Korea: Hahoe and Yangdong (Republic of Korea)

Founded in the 14th-15th centuries, Hahoe and Yangdong are seen as the two most representative historic clan villages in the Republic of Korea. Their layout and location – sheltered by forested mountains and facing out onto a river and open agricultural fields – reflect the distinctive aristocratic Confucian culture of the early part of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). The villages were located to provide both physical and spiritual nourishment from their surrounding landscapes. They include residences of the head families, together with substantial timber framed houses of other clan members, also pavilions, study halls, Confucian academies for learning, and clusters of one story mud-walled, thatched-roofed houses, formerly for commoners. The landscapes of mountains, trees and water around the village, framed in views from pavilions and retreats, were celebrated for their beauty by 17th and 18th century poets.

The World Heritage Committee meeting in Brasilia has inscribed new cultural sites in Viet Nam, China, Tajikistan, France, the Netherlands, on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The Committee also agreed to the extension of two cultural properties in Germany, Norway.

The latest cultural sites inscribed include (in order of inscription):

The Imperial Citadel of Thang Long-Hanoi (Viet Nam)

The Thang Long Imperial Citadel has become the 900th site to be inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The Citadel was built in the 11th century by the Ly Viet Dynasty, marking the independence of the Dai Viet. It was constructed on the remains of a Chinese fortress dating from the 7th century, on drained land reclaimed from the Red River Delta in Hanoi. It was the centre of regional political power for almost 13 centuries without interruption. The Imperial Citadel buildings and the remains in the 18 Hoang Dieu Archaeological Site reflect a unique South-East Asian culture specific to the lower Red River Valley, at the crossroads between influences coming from China in the north and the ancient Kingdom of Champa in the south.

Historic monuments of Dengfeng, in the “Centre of Heaven and Earth” (China)

Mount Songshang is considered to be the central sacred mountain of China. At the foot of this 1500 metre high mountain, close to the city of Dengfeng in Henan province and spread over a 40 square-kilometre circle, stand eight clusters of buildings and sites, including three Han Que gates – remains of the oldest religious edifices in China -, temples, the Zhougong Sundial Platform and the Dengfeng Observatory. Constructed over the course of nine dynasties, these buildings are reflections of different ways of perceiving the centre of heaven and earth and the power of the mountain as a centre for religious devotion. The historical monuments of Dengfeng include some of the best examples of ancient Chinese buildings devoted to ritual, science, technology and education.

Sarazm (Tajikistan)

Sarazm, which means “where the land begins”, is an archaeological site bearing testimony to the development of human settlements in Central Asia, from the 4th millennium BCE to the end of the 3rd millennium BCE. The ruins demonstrate the early development of proto-urbanization in this region. This centre of settlement, one of the oldest in Central Asia, is situated between a mountainous region suitable for cattle rearing by nomadic pastoralists, and a large valley conducive to the development of agriculture and irrigation by the first settled populations in the region. Sarazm also demonstrates the existence of commercial and cultural exchanges and trade relations with peoples over an extensive geographical area, extending from the steppes of Central Asia and Turkmenistan, to the Iranian plateau, the Indus valley and as far as the Indian Ocean.

Episcopal city of Albi (France)

On the banks of the Tarn river in south-west France, the old city of Albi reflects the culmination of a medieval architectural and urban ensemble. Today the Old Bridge (Pont-Vieux), the Saint-Salvi quarter and its church are testimony to its initial development (10th -11th centuries). Following the Albigensian Crusade against the Cathar heretics (13th century) it became a powerful episcopal city. Built in a unique southern French Gothic style from local brick in characteristic red and orange colours, the lofty fortified Cathedral (late 13th century) dominates the city, demonstrating the power regained by the Roman Catholic clergy. Alongside the Cathedral is the vast bishop’s Palais de la Berbie, overlooking the river and surrounded by residential quarters that date back to the Middle Ages. The Episcopal City of Albi forms a coherent and homogeneous ensemble of monuments and quarters that has remained largely unchanged over the centuries.

Seventeenth-century canal ring area inside the Singelgracht, Amsterdam (Netherlands)

The historic urban ensemble of the canal district of Amsterdam was a project for a new ‘port city’ built at the end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th centuries. It comprises a network of canals to the west and south of the historic old town and the medieval port that encircled the old town and was accompanied by the repositioning inland of the city’s fortified boundaries, the Singelgracht. This was a long-term programme that involved extending the city by draining the swampland, using a system of canals in concentric arcs and filling in the intermediate spaces. These spaces allowed the development of a homogeneous urban ensemble including gabled houses and numerous monuments. This urban extension was the largest and most homogeneous of its time. It was a model of large-scale town planning, and served as a reference throughout the world until the 19th century.

Upper Harz Water Management System (Germany) (extension of Mines to Rammelsberg and Historic Town of Goslar)

The Upper Harz mining water management system, which lies south of the Rammelsberg mines and the town of Goslar, has been developed over a period of some 800 years to assist in the process of extracting ore for the production of non-ferrous metals. Its construction was first undertaken in the Middle Ages by Cistercian monks, and it was then developed on a vast scale from the end of the 16th century until the 19th century. It is made up of an extremely complex but perfectly coherent system of artificial ponds, small channels, tunnels and underground drains. It enabled the development of water power for use in mining and metallurgical processes. It is a major site for mining innovation in the western world.

Røros Mining Town and the Circumference (Norway) (extension of “Røros Mining Town”)

The history of the town of Røros is linked to the copper mines. Established in the 17th century, they were exploited for 333 years until 1977. Completely rebuilt after its destruction by Swedish troops in 1679, Røros contains some 80 wooden one- and two-storey houses and a smelting house. Many of these buildings have preserved their blackened wooden façades, giving the town a medieval appearance. The site was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1980. The extension is a serial site and comprises the Town and its industrial-rural cultural landscapes; Femundshytta, a smelter with its associated area; and the Winter Transport Route. Surrounded by a buffer zone, coincident with the area of privileges (the Circumference) granted to the mining enterprise by the Danish-Norwegian Crown (1646), the property illustrates the establishment and flourishing of a lasting culture based on copper mining in a remote region with a harsh climate.

The cultural sites:

Camino Real de Tierra Adentro (Mexico)

Camino Real de Tierra Adentro was the Royal Inland Road, also known as the Silver Route. The inscribed property consists of 55 sites and five existing World Heritage sites lying along a 1400 km section of this 2600 km route, that extends north from Mexico City to Texas and New Mexico, United States of America. The route was actively used as a trade route for 300 years, from the mid-16th to the 19th centuries, mainly for transporting silver extracted from the mines of Zacatecas, Guanajuato and San Luis Potosí, and mercury imported from Europe. Although it is a route that was motivated and consolidated by the mining industry, it also fostered the creation of social, cultural and religious links in particular between Spanish and Amerindian cultures.

Prehistoric caves of Yagul and Mitla in the Central Valley of Oaxaca (Mexico)

This property lies on the northern slopes of the Tlacolula valley in subtropical central Oaxaca and consists of two pre-Hispanic archaeological complexes and a series of pre-historic caves and rock shelters. Some of these shelters provide archaeological and rock-art evidence for the progress of nomadic hunter-gathers to incipient farmers. Ten thousand-year-old Cucurbitaceae seeds in one cave, Guilá Naquitz, are considered to be the earliest known evidence of domesticated plants in the continent, while corn cob fragments from the same cave are said to be the earliest documented evidence for the domestication of maize. The cultural landscape of the Prehistoric Caves of Yagul and Mitla demonstrates the link between man and nature that gave origin to the domestication of plants in North America, thus allowing the rise of Mesoamerican civilizations.

São Francisco Square in the town of São Cristovão (Brazil)

São Francisco Square, in the town of São Cristovão, is a quadrilateral open space surrounded by substantial early buildings such as São Francisco Church and convent, the Church and Santa Casa da Misericórdia, the Provincial Palace and the associated houses of different historical periods surrounding the Square. This monumental ensemble, together with the surrounding 18th– and 19th– century houses, creates an urban landscape which reflects the history of the town since its origin. The Franciscan complex is an example of the typical architecture of the religious order developed in north-eastern Brazil.

The natural sites inscribed:

China Danxia

China Danxia is the name given in China to landscapes developed on continental red terrigenous sedimentary beds influenced by endogenous forces (including uplift) and exogenous forces (including weathering and erosion). The inscribed site comprises six areas found in the sub-tropical zone of south-west China. They are characterized by spectacular red cliffs and a range of erosional landforms, including dramatic natural pillars, towers, ravines, valleys and waterfalls. These rugged landscapes have helped to conserve sub-tropical broad-leaved evergreen forests, and host many species of flora and fauna, about 400 of which are considered rare or threatened.

Phoenix Islands Protected Area (Kiribati)

The Phoenix Island Protected Area (PIPA) is a 408,250 sq.km expanse of marine and terrestrial habitats in the Southern Pacific Ocean. The property encompasses the Phoenix Island Group, one of three island groups in Kiribati, and is the largest designated Marine Protected Area in the world. PIPA conserves one of the world’s largest intact oceanic coral archipelago ecosystems, together with 14 known underwater sea mounts (presumed to be extinct volcanoes)  and other deep-sea habitats. The area contains approximately 800 known species of fauna, including about 200 coral species, 500 fish species, 18 marine mammals and 44 bird species. The structure and functioning of PIPA’s ecosystems illustrates its pristine nature and importance as a migration route and reservoir. This is the first site in Kiribati to be inscribed on the World Heritage List.

Pitons, cirques and remparts of Reunion Island (France)

The Pitons, cirques and remparts of Reunion Island site coincides with the core zone of La Réunion National Park. The property covers more than 100,000 ha or 40 % of La Réunion, an island comprising two adjoining volcanic massifs located in the south-west of the Indian Ocean. Dominated by two towering volcanic peaks, massive walls and three cliff-rimmed cirques, the property includes a great variety of rugged terrain and impressive escarpments, forested gorges and basins creating a visually striking landscape. It is the natural habitat for a wide diversity of plants, presenting a high level of endemism. There are subtropical rainforests, cloud forests and heaths creating a remarkable and visually appealing mosaic of ecosystems and landscape features.

Pirin National Park (Bulgaria) (extension)

Spread over an area of over 27,000 ha, at an altitude between 1008 and 2914 m in the Pirin Mountains, southwest Bulgaria, the site comprises diverse limestone mountain landscapes with glacial lakes, waterfalls, caves and predominantly coniferous forests. It was added to the World Heritage List in 1983. The extension now covers an area of around 40,000 ha in the Pirin Mountains, and overlaps with the Pirin National Park, except for two areas developed for tourism (skiing). The dominant part of the extension is high mountain territory over 2000m in altitude, and covered mostly by alpine meadows, rocky screes and summits.

From UNESCO WHC (source 1, source 2, source 3, source 4)

The secret of the strength of the Great Wall of China

From Telegraph:

The Great Wall of China at Mutianyu

Workers built the Ming dynasty sections of the Great Wall about 600 years ago by mixing together a paste of sticky rice flour and slaked lime, the standard ingredient in mortar, said Dr Zhang Bingjian.

The sticky rice mortar bound the bricks together so tightly that in many places weeds still cannot grow. However, there was widespread resentment against the Wall in the south of China because the Ming emperors requisitioned the southern rice harvest both to feed the workers on the Wall and to make the mortar.

“The ancient mortar is a special kind of organic and inorganic mixture,” said Dr Zhang, a professor of chemistry at Zhejiang university in the city of Hangzhou in eastern China.

“The organic component is amylopectin, which comes from the porridge of sticky rice that was added to the mortar,” he said.

“The inorganic component is calcium carbonate, and the organic component is amylopectin, which comes from the sticky rice soup added to the mortar. This amylopectin helped create a compact microstructure, [giving the Great Wall] more stable physical properties and greater mechanical strength,” he reported in the journal of the American Chemical Society.

Dr Zhang said the use of sticky rice, a staple in East Asian food, was one of the greatest technical innovations of the time, and helped Ming dynasty tombs, pagodas and walls weather earthquakes and other disasters.

From Telegraph

114 new terracotta warriors unearthed in Xi’an

View of the largest excavation pit of the Terracotta Army

From China Daily:

A company of Terracotta Warriors – most painted in rich colors – have been unearthed at the largest pit within the mausoleum complex of the emperor who first unified China.

A total of 114 Terracotta Warriors have been found at No 1 pit, one of three, where excavation started in June last year, said Xu Weihong, head of the excavation team…

[Read the rest of the article here.]

China’s Mount Wutai inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List

news_523

The World Heritage Committee has inscribed China’s Mount Wutai on UNESCO’s World Heritage List as a cultural landscape.

With its five flat peaks, Mount Wutai is a sacred Buddhist mountain. The cultural landscape numbers 53 monasteries and includes the East Main Hall of Foguang Temple, the highest surviving timber Building of the Tang Dynasty with life size clay sculptures. It also features the Ming Dynasty Shuxiang Temple with a huge complex of 500 statues representing Buddhist stories woven into three dimensional pictures of mountains and water.

Overall, the buildings on the site present a catalogue of the way Buddhist architecture developed and influenced palace building in China over more than one millennium. Mount Wutai, literally, the five terrace mountain, is the highest mountain in northern China and is remarkable for its morphology characterized by precipitous sides with five open treeless peaks. Temples have been built on the site since the 1st century AD to the early 20th century.

SOURCE