Cambodia’s vast medieval cities hidden beneath the jungle

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Archaeologists in Cambodia have found multiple, previously undocumented medieval cities not far from the ancient temple city of Angkor Wat in groundbreaking discoveries that promise to upend key assumptions about south-east Asia’s history.

The Australian archaeologist Dr Damian Evans, whose findings will be published in the Journal of Archaeological Science on Monday, will announce that cutting-edge airborne laser scanning technology has revealed multiple cities between 900 and 1,400 years old beneath the tropical forest floor, some of which rival the size of Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh.

Read the rest of the report.

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26 new sites inscribed on UNESCO World Heritage List

From UNESCO:

A total of five natural World Heritage Sites were inscribed during the present session of the World Heritage Committee: Lakes of Ounianga (Chad); Sangha Trinational (Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo,); Chengjiang Fossil Site (China); Western Ghats (India); Lena Pillars Nature Park (Russian Federation).

Rock Islands Southern Lagoon (Palau) was inscribed as a mixed natural and cultural site.

A total of 20 cultural sites were inscribed during the session:

  • Pearling, Testimony of an Island Economy (Bahrain); Major Mining Sites of Wallonia (Belgium);
  • Rio de Janeiro, Carioca Landscapes between the Mountain and the Sea (Brazil);
  • The Landscape of Grand-Pré (Canada);
  • Site of Xanadu (China);
  • Historic Town Grand-Bassam (Côte d’Ivoire);
  • Nord-Pas de Calais Mining Basin (France);
  • Margravial Opera House Bayreuth (Germany);
  • Cultural Landscape of Bali Province: the Subak System as a Manifestation of the Tri Hita Karana Philosophy (Indonesia);
  • Masjed-e Jāmé of Isfahan (Islamic Republic of Iran),
  • Gonbad-e Qābus (Islamic Republic of Iran);
  • Sites of Human Evolution at Mount Carmel : The Nahal Me’arot/Wadi el-Mughara Caves (Israel);
  • Archaelogical Heritage of the Lenggong Valley (Malaysia);
  • Rabat, Modern Capital and Historic City: a Shared Heritage (Morocco);
  • Birthplace of Jesus: Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem (Palestine);
  • Garrison Border Town of Elvas and its Fortifications (Portugal);
  • Bassari Country: Bassari, Fula and Bedik Cultural Landscapes (Senegal);
  • Heritage of Mercury Almadén and Idrija (Slovenia/Spain);
  • Decorated Farmhouses of Hälsingland (Sweden);
  • Neolithic Site of Çatalhöyük (Turkey).

More detailed descriptions of each of the newly inscribed properties can be found here (with photos).

Birthplace of Jesus: Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem (Palestine) was inscribed on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger, as it was added to the List of World Heritage. Two of Mali’s World Heritage sites, Timbuktu and the Tomb of Askia, were also added to the List of World Heritage in Danger, as were Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City (UK) and the Fortifications on the Caribbean Side of Panama: Portobelo-San Lorenzo (Panama).

Two conservation success stories were recognized by the World Heritage Committee allowing for them to be removed from the List of World Heritage in Danger: Fort and Shalamar Gardens in Lahore (Pakistan) and the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras (Philippines).

36 sites considered for inscription on UNESCO’s World Heritage List

 

From whc:

The World Heritage Committee will consider the inscription of 36 sites on the World Heritage List during its next meeting from 24 June to 6 July, in Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation

The forthcoming 36 th session of the Committee , an independent body of 21 States Parties to the 1972 World Heritage Convention , will be chaired by. Eleonora Mitrofanova, Ambassador Permanent Delegate of the Russian Federation to UNESCO. For the first time in its 40-year history, members of the public and the media will be able to follow the debates of the Committee through live streaming on the internet.

Five natural sites are to be considered for inscription: Chad, Lakes of Ounianga; China, Chengjian Fossil Site; Congo, Cameroon and Central African Republic, Sangha Trinational; India, Western Ghats; Russian Federation, Lena Pillars Nature Park.

Three “mixed sites” are to be considered for inscription for their natural and cultural values: Israel, Sites of Human Evolution at Mount Carmel: The Nahal Me’arot / Wadi el-Mughara caves; Palau, Rock islands Southern Lagoon; Spain Plasencia-Monfrague-Trujillo: Mediterranean Landscape.

Twenty-eight cultural sites are to be considered: Bahrain, Pearling, testimony of an island economy; Belgium, Major Mining Sites of Wallonia; Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, Carioca Landscapes between the Mountain and the Sea; Canada, Landscape of Grand Pré; China, Site of Xanadu; Côte d’Ivoire, Historic Town of Grand-Bassam; Croatia, Sacral Complex on the remains of the Roman Forum in Zadar; France, Nord-Pas de Calais Mining Basin; France, the Chauvet – Pont d’Arc decorated cave; Germany, Margravial Opera House Bayreuth; Germany, Schwetzingen: A Prince Elector’s Summer Residence; India, Hill Forts of Rajasthan; Indonesia, Cultural Landscape of Bali Province: The Subak System as a Manifestation of the Tri Hita Karana Philosophy; Islamic Republic of Iran, Masjed-e Jāmé of Isfahan; Iran, Gonbad-e Qābus; Italy, Vineyard Landscape of Piedmont: Langhe-Roero and Monferrato; Malaysia, Archaeological Heritage of the Lenggong Valley; Morocco, Rabat, modern capital and historic city: a shared heritage; Palestine, Birthplace of Jesus: Church of the Nativity and the Pilgrimage Route, Bethlehem; Portugal, Garrison Border Town of Elvas and its Fortifications; Qatar, Al Zubarah Archaeological Site; Russian Federation, Russian Kremlins; Senegal, Bassari Country: Bassari, Fula and Bedik Cultural Landscapes; Slovenia and Spain; Heritage of Mercury. Almadén and Idrija; Sweden, Decorated Farmhouses of Hälsingland; The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Archaeo-Astronomical Site – Kokino; Turkey, Neolithic site of Çatalhöyük; Ukraine, Kyiv: Saint-Sophia Cathedral with related Monastic Buildings, St. Cyril’s and St. Andrew’s Churches (extension).

Both The Chauvet – Pont d’Arc decorated cave (France) and the Church of the Nativity and pilgrimage route, Bethlehem (Palestine) will be processed on an emergency basis and the documents that concern them are not yet available.

Chad, Congo, Palau, Palestine and Qatar stand to enter the World Heritage List with their first inscriptions.

Palestine, which became a member of UNESCO in October 2011 and subsequently ratified the World Heritage Convention, will be presenting its first site for inscription on the World Heritage List.

The World Heritage List, created under the terms of the 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage numbers 936 properties forming part of the world’s cultural and natural heritage which the World Heritage Committee considers to be of outstanding universal value. Sites inscribed include 725 cultural, 183 natural and 28 mixed properties in 153 States Parties . One-hundred-eighty-nine States Parties have ratified the World Heritage Convention to date.

 

Archaeologists blast hasty World Heritage listings

From NewsWatch:

One of the most significant global committees that you never heard of summoned a couple of hundred experts to the island of Menorca, Spain last week. The meeting involved politics, the remnants of great civilizations, human catastrophes, architectural triumphs, religious works of art and architecture, use of tourism, the rise and fall of empires, and did we say politics?

The International Committee on Archaeological Heritage Management, or ICAHM, held its first conference on how to manage the world’s myriad archaeological World Heritage sites. This wildly varied array of places encompasses many of the most celebrated sites of human cultural accomplishment and catastrophe—everything from the pyramids and Roman fortifications to Mongol-era tombs and prehistoric rock art. ICAHM’s key job is to advise the World Heritage Committee about new sites proposed for the famous list. I attended as a guest of the Congress, which paid for my travel.

Right at the outset, ICAHM co-president Dr. Willem J.H. Willems of Leiden, Netherlands, put the core issue on the table. “Archaeology is the study of the past,” he said in his April 9 keynote, but “the past doesn’t exist anymore. Heritage is about the use of the past in the present.” And that’s where it gets interesting. And risky.

Too many countries are rushing to use the past—their heritage sites—for present purposes. Willems sharply criticized the way that sites are proposed and awarded World Heritage inscription. According to the World Heritage Convention, an international treaty, sites should be awarded a place on the list based on solid scientific and academic reasoning. Not happening, said Willems. The World Heritage Committee has been approving too many applications based on economic and “radically political” expediency.

For most countries, World Heritage status is a hotly desired prize. A background note may be necessary for some of the American audience here, where a myth prevails that a World Heritage listing means giving up sovereignty to UNESCO. In fact, World Heritage inscription simply means your country gets the sites that it requests “inscribed” on the World Heritage list. The conditions are that the sites are of “outstanding universal value” and that you take good care of them. If you don’t, the worst UNESCO can do is propose removal from the list.

Most countries, especially impoverished developing nations, are eager to put their greatest natural and cultural places on the list. Why? Prestige in part, national pride in part, yes, but also that modern vein of gold: tourism! An inscription puts you on the travel map.

Tourism Unleashed

When it comes to historic and archaeological sites, though, a blind grab for tourism is playing with fire. Without care, “loved-to-death” syndrome is a real threat. Listen to what ICAHM’s other co-president, Dr. Douglas Comer of Baltimore, Maryland, had to say about one ancient site he knows well: Petra, Jordan.  Once such a site is damaged, he stressed, the physical archaeological record is gone forever.

“Petra had about 45,000 visitors in 1985,” Comer told the meeting. “It’s now close to 800,000.” Tourism-related construction at Petra destroyed Nabataean terra cotta pipes more than 2,000 years old. The sandstone seats in the Theatre have survived two millennia, but in the past two decades so many tourists have sat on them that they have worn away the stonemasons’ marks. History wiped by butts. Overall, abrasion from visitor traffic has removed well over a foot of sandstone from the interior of Petra’s most famous monument, Al-Khazna, seen as the repository of the Holy Grail in an Indiana Jones movie. Development at nearby Wadi Musa created impermeable pavement, which in turn floods sandstone with too much water and erodes it. Donkeys carrying tourists gradually destroyed the ancient Nabataean steps.  The practice has been stopped—too late for the steps. In a common pattern, USAID and others have put over $30 million toward supporting tourism to Jordan, but comparatively little has gone to preservation.

And those are the problems at just one site!

The archaeologists were not calling for an end to tourism—not at all. They want us to share the thrill and knowledge of these places. But like any predictable flood, the torrent of tourists needs careful control and planning. Comer called for a requirement that site applications include a credible “best management practices” plan—tourism impacts included—and that inscriptions be made provisional, becoming permanent after convincingly long-term demonstration of those best practices.

That takes us back to Willems’s complaint with the World Heritage Committee’s performance over the past few years: “In 44 percent of the cases, the Committee proceeded to inscribe sites on the World Heritage List that in the judgment of the advisory bodies had not met the requirements for inscription.” He called it “extreme disregard of expert advice.” In his view, these newly listed sites are ignoring the speed limit and heading for Dead Man’s Curve.

Willems doesn’t say these sites are unworthy of inscription, just that they’re not properly assessed, protected, and ready for the attention inscription could bring.   Some of the problem derives from the legitimate need to rectify a Eurocentric tilt in the initial inscriptions. But that can mean a rush to list places that are not ready. Especially egregious was the case of the Preah Vihear Temple on the disputed Cambodian-Thai border. In 2008 the Committee granted Cambodia’s application over Thai and expert objections, sparking a border conflict. “Now these people are shooting each other!” says Willems.

I asked him for some other examples of not-ready-for-prime-time World Heritage inscriptions. He cited Burkina Faso’s Loropéni, a 1,000-year-old gold-trade site, rushed to approval to help a desperately poor West African country get some tourism revenue, but without satisfactory study. The Kushite ruins in Sudan’s Island of Meroe met “minimum requirements for nothing” except Sudan’s need for prestige. Wadi Rum in Jordan received an inscription despite too many tourists without adequate planning or control.

Not all talks criticized the process. Much of the conference consisted of the specialists reporting to each other. It’s arcane but often fascinating stuff: Laser scanning industrial heritage sites in Wales; community action at El Tajin in Veracruz, Mexico; protecting the hominid footprints at Laetoli, Tanzania; World Heritage candidacy for ancient stone spheres in Costa Rica; the fate of heritage sites in post-conflict Libya; how to protect Peru’s Caral ruins—old as the Egyptian pyramids.

Archaeological Menorca

The government of Menorca chose to host this conference in part so as to show off their own cultural heritage, beginning with the conference venue, the impressively restored Theatre Principal in old town Mahon, Menorca’s capital. The oldest opera house in Spain, this red plush, 1829 creation has 5 stories of box-seats—more suited to a production of La Dolores than a quasi-academic conference.

But what really surprised me about the island was the proliferation of megalithic ruins, many of them from the 3,000-year-old Talayotic Culture, unique to Menorca. Their iconic talayots, fat cylindrical stone watchtowers, sit atop numerous knolls and hills all over the island. Even more dramatic are the T-shaped taula stones, looking like detached bits of Stonehenge. Add dolmens, communal tombs, barrows, Roman constructions, and entire neolithic villages, and you’re in antiquity heaven. “There’s hardly a farm on Menorca without a monument,” someone had observed.

Early one morning local archaeologist Margarita Orfila Pons took four of us to a two-level talayot off the tourist trail. As the group climbed it, someone dislodged a stone, which rolled a few feet down the side of the structure and came to rest. No big deal. But it was easy to see what would happen to the tower if 100,000 people a year were climbing it, decade after decade.

Later we joined the other attendees touring the island’s archaeological gems, including an elaborate lunch in the attractive town of Ciutadella. Touring the ruins with two busloads of archaeologists and students can be taxing, though. After hearing hours of on-site technical descriptions of sandstone this and limestone that, even the pros’ attentions were flagging.

Academia, Management, and Money

At the top of this post I called ICAHM significant. That doesn’t necessarily mean effective. Some presentations do have practical value, providing tools and ideas for taking better care of these sites, for involving local people, for engaging tourists. Others lean more toward the academic and theoretical, with titles like “Architecture and Urban Structure in Hierapolis: An Archaeological Perspective,” “Formal Educational Curricula and Cultural Heritage,” and “Insularity [and] Interaction with Foreign and Social Complexity.” Focusing on one of these after a two-hour Spanish lunch would have called for a constant IV flow of espresso. Maybe that’s why I didn’t see enough actionable propositions or recommendations. Rather little emphasis on the “M” in ICAHM.

I believe the pressures afflicting our great cultural sites demand a greater sense of urgency. The 2006 NatGeo survey of World Heritage destination stewardship revealed drastically differing levels of success in supporting cultural sites and the visitor experiences, ranging from the well-managed Alhambra and Granada in Spain to the grossly overtrafficked, underexplained Angkor and its Siem Reap gateway town. The extent to which ICAHM is effective will depend on participants’ ability to focus on action and not just academic theory. One late-session speaker, after he was done lambasting the inscription and management of World Heritage sites in Ethiopia, pointed out that the conference’s earlier “Social Action” set of 15-minute presentations did not live up to their billing. “Social action was mentioned in the last 30 seconds.”

But there’s another, major problem with ICAHM. The scientists are expected to do all this work for free.

This was the third of Comer’s calls to action: Get support. In recent decades we have seen millions of dollars spent to attract tourists, and pennies to protect what they travel to see.

Judging from what I’ve seen this week, ICAHM knows it has a long way to go, as does the World Heritage program, as do we all. Otherwise the tangible story of our species crumbles, one dislodged stone at a time, and with it, the knowledge of who we are.

Pompeii is in crisis

From ArtNewspaper:

A Unesco report has identified serious problems with the World Heritage Site, including structural damage to buildings, vandalism and a lack of qualified staff. Unesco’s director-general for culture, Francesco Bandarin, tells The Art Newspaper: “The state of conservation is a problem, because of a lack of maintenance of very fragile structures. Visitor services need a dramatic improvement.”

The collapse of a column at Pompeii on 22 December raised further alarm. The column was in a pergola in the courtyard of the House of Loreio Tiburtino, whose adjacent rooms have very fine frescoes.

The eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD killed Pompeii’s inhabitants but preserved their buildings. The city was covered with ash, and it was only after its rediscovery in 1748 that excavations began. In 1997, Unesco designated it a World Heritage Site. The Pompeii crisis came to a head with the collapse of the Schola Armaturarum, known as the House of the Gladiators, in November 2010, along with three further collapses later in the month. This was after extremely heavy rain.

Unesco sent a mission supervised by Christopher Young, the head of world heritage and international policy at English Heritage, who says that Pompeii represents “the world’s most important Roman remains, in terms of what it tells us about daily life”. He was assisted by two Paris-based specialists representing the International Council on Monuments and Sites: Jean-Pierre Adam, a professor at the Ecole du Louvre, and Alix Barbet, the director of research at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. Their report, which has had virtually no international press coverage, was submitted last June to Unesco’s World Heritage Committee in Paris. It covers Pompeii and the nearby sites of Herculaneum and Torre Annunziata, on the ­outskirts of Naples.

The Unesco report says that the “conditions that caused [the Schola Armaturarum] collapses are widespread within the site”. Storms last autumn raised fears of further significant damage, but so far it has not been serious.

Although much of Pompeii ­remains in good repair, the problems are numerous, including “inappropriate restoration ­methods and a general lack of qualified staff… restoration projects are outsourced and the quality of the work of the contractors is not being assessed. An efficient drainage system is lacking, ­leading to water infiltration and excessive moisture that gradually degrades the structural condition of the buildings as well as their decor. The mission was also concerned by the amount of plant growth, particularly ivy.”

Staffing at Pompeii remains a fundamental problem. The structure is “very rigid”, with “jobs ­being secure until retirement”, making it “virtually impossible to recruit new staff”. Although around 470 people are employed at Pompeii, it is “very short” of professional staff, there are “very few” maintenance workers and only 23 guards are on site at any one time.

The guards do not wear uniforms and fail to display their badges. The experts observed them “grouped together in threes or fours”, which meant there was a limited presence on the enormous site. Since 1987, the number of guards has been reduced by a quarter while visitor numbers have increased considerably.

Pompeii attracted more than 2.3 million visitors in 2010 and on the busiest days it had 20,000. Sheer numbers, along with careless behaviour, are causing considerable damage: “Visitors in groups rub against the decorated walls, all too often with their rucksacks, or lean against them to take the best possible photographs,” says the report.

A further problem is that much of Pompeii is “closed”. In 1956, 66 restored houses were open to visitors, but this number has fallen to 15 (only five of which are always open). “Large areas of Pompeii are not accessible to ­visitors owing to the lack of guards, so accessible parts are overvisited and suffer considerably from visitor erosion,” according to the report. The mission found that the most serious vandalism was in houses that are closed to visitors, because of “the derisory effectiveness of efforts to prohibit access”.

Management changes have resulted in further problems. In July 2008, the Italian government declared Pompeii to be in a “state of emergency”, putting it under special administration until July 2010 (two commissioners served during this period: Renato Profili and then Marcello Fiori). There have been four successive superintendents since September 2009: Mariarosaria Salvatore, Giuseppe Proietti, Jeannette Papadopoulos and Teresa Elena Cinquantaquattro.

The Unesco mission found that, although a management plan was drawn up in 2008, “site staff were not able to show clearly that the plan was actually used”. Scarce resources have been diverted from conservation and maintenance to “non-urgent” projects, such as the reconstruction of the theatre. The report says that such projects were “probably done with an educational aim in mind, but may also reflect a certain attraction for ‘entertainment archaeology’.”

“Uncontrolled development” near Pompeii is also criticised. At its meeting last June, Unesco approved a resolution saying that it “deeply regrets” not having been informed about the construction of “a large concrete building” north of the Porta di Nola. This is to be used by archaeologists for offices and storage.

Pietro Giovanni Guzzo, the superintendent of Pompeii from 1995 to 2009, says that the report is “very meticulous”. Its proposals are along the lines of those suggested during his tenure, but “delays” were caused mainly by staffing problems. Guzzo welcomes Unesco’s involvement, hoping it will “spur the Italian government to give Pompeii more resources, both financial and professional”.

With Unesco poised to assist Italian specialists, an action plan could be developed. This should provide a basis for spending the €105m that has been committed for Pompeii by the European Union. However, there are some concerns that the project may be affected by the withdrawal of $65m a year of Unesco funding from the US, following the admission of Palestine in October.

Unesco has asked the Italian authorities to introduce monitoring of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Torre Annunziata by 1 February, along with a statement on the site’s “outstanding universal value”. A report must be submitted by February 2013 on “the possible inscription of the property on the list of World Heritage in Danger”.

Although Pompeii is among Italy’s most important heritage sites, it is not the only one to face intractable problems. Italy’s 47 World Heritage Sites include Venice and its Lagoon and the historic centre of Rome, to take two examples. However, Bandarin, an Italian citizen, stresses that Unesco’s agreement with Italy is “only for the World Heritage Site of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Torre Annunziata”.

25 new properties inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List

From WHC:

The World Heritage Committee has inscribed a total of 25 sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, including three natural properties, 21 cultural and one mixed site. Two properties were added to the World Heritage List in Danger and one was removed from that list. The World Heritage List now numbers 936 properties: 183 natural sites; 725 cultural; and 28 mixed.

Natural properties:

  • Ningaloo Coast (Australia)
  • Ogasawara Islands (Japan)
  • Kenya Lake System in the Great Rift Valley (Kenya)

Mixed natural and cultural properties:

  • Wadi Rum Protected Area (Jordan)

Cultural Properties:

  • Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison (Barbados)
  • West Lake Cultural Landscape of Hangzhou (China)
  • Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia (Colombia)
  • The Persian Garden (Iran)
  • Konso Cultural Landscape (Ethiopia)
  • The Causses and the Cévennes, Mediterranean Agro-pastoral Cultural Landscape (France)
  • Fagus Factory in Alfeld (Germany)
  • Longobards in Italy. Places of the power (568-774 A.D.) (Italy)
  • Hiraizumi – Temples, Gardens and Archaeological Sites Representing
  • The Buddhist Pure Land (Japan)
  • Fort Jesus, Mombasa (Kenya)
  • Petroglyphs Complexes of the Mongolian Altai (Mongolia)
  • León Cathedral (Nicaragua)
  • Saloum Delta (Senegal)
  • Cultural Landscape of the Serra de Tramuntana (Spain)
  • Archaeological Sites of the Island of Meroe (Sudan)
  • Prehistoric Pile dwellings around the Alps (Switzerland, Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Slovenia)
  • Ancient Villages of Northern Syria (Syrian Arab Republic)
  • Selimiye Mosque Complex at Edirne (Turkey)
  • Cultural Sites of Al Ain (Hafit, Hili, Bidaa Bint Saud and Oases Areas) (United Arab Emirates)
  • The Residence of Bukovinian and Dalmatian Metropolitans (Ukraine)
  • Citadel of the Ho Dynasty (Viet Nam)

Extensions:

  • Primeval Beech Forests of the Carpathians and the Ancient Beech Forests of Germany (Slovakia, Ukraine, Germany)

Additions to the World Heritage List in Danger:

  • Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve (Honduras)
  • Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra (Indonesia)

Removed from World Heritage List in Danger:

  • Manas Wildlife Sanctuary (India)

Short description of each property can be viewed here.