Help select the next World Heritage Sites in the U.S.

As most travelers know, the UNESCO World Heritage Sites are amongst the most spectacular places in the entire world. The list, which currently consists of more than 900 unique locations across the planet, recognizes those places for their cultural or physical significance. But that list is constantly being evaluated and updated, with some sites being removed when they are threatened or altered, and others being added as their significance becomes more apparent.

The U.S. National Commission for UNESCO, which operates as a Federal Advisory Commission to the Department of State, has just opened a 30-day call for public comments on the current list of places that are being considered for World Heritage status. During this phase, the general public is invited to weigh in on the nominees, and express their opinion on whether or not those sites are worthy of UNESCO’s very esteemed list.

There are a total of 13 sites under consideration, with nine falling under the “cultural” category. Those sites include: Civil Rights Movement Sites, Alabama; Dayton Aviation Sites, Ohio; Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks, Ohio; various Thomas Jefferson Buildings in Virginia; Mount Vernon, Virginia; Poverty Point National Monument and State Historic Site, Louisiana; San Antonio Franciscan Missions, Texas; Serpent Mound, Ohio and various Frank Lloyd Wright Buildings throughout the country. Additionally, there are four sites up for nomination in the “natural” category as well. Those sites include: Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary, American Samoa; Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia; Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona and White Sands National Monument, New Mexico.

The call for comment went out on Tuesday, Dec. 14, so the process has already been set in motion. For more information you can read the official entry into the Federal Registry by clicking here. If you would like to share a comment with the Commission, you’ll find the contact information for doing so, including mailing address, by clicking here.

This is a great opportunity to get some historically and culturally significant sites recognized by UNESCO. If you would like to see one, or more, of these sites added to the World Heritage list, be sure to share your thoughts now.

[Photo credit: National Park Service]

UNESCO studies Pompeii troubles

A UNESCO team has arrived at Pompeii to investigate the recent collapses of ancient walls and buildings, All Headline News reports.

Two Roman walls collapsed earlier this week, and in November the House of Gladiators fell down. Authorities blame heavy rains but there’s a growing controversy over the lack of maintenance at the site.

The Roman city was buried in ash during an eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. The ash kept the city remarkably preserved, making it one of the world’s top archaeological treasures.

The team will study the site and give suggestions as to how to preserve it, but the investigators have made clear that it is Italy’s responsibility to do the work. The Italian government has created a task force of archaeologists, craftsmen, and architects to shore up the walls and buildings. Considering that the last conservation project at Pompeii is under investigation for mob connections, it remains to be seen how effective this new task force will be.

[Photo courtesy user Alago via Wikimedia Commons]

Stonehenge burial may be prehistoric tourist

Archaeologists call him the “Boy with the Amber Necklace”, and ever since he was discovered in 2005 they’ve known he was special. Not only would his jewelry have been rare and expensive back when he was buried 3,550 years ago, but the choice of his grave site was significant too–just three miles from Stonehenge.

Now chemical analysis on his teeth has revealed something else special about him–he isn’t from England at all, but from the Mediterranean. Tooth enamel forms in early childhood and retains oxygen and strontium. Different isotopes of these elements are found in different ecozones and regions, and show where an individual grew up. When scientists analyzed the teeth of the Boy with the Amber Necklace, they found he’d grown up around the Mediterranean. The “boy” was actually about fourteen or fifteen years old, and it’s unclear exactly why he came to southern England and the sacred site of Stonehenge.

This isn’t the first time a burial near Stonehenge has turned out to be from somewhere else. The “Amesbury Archer”, a grown man buried with some of the oldest gold and copper artifacts ever found in the UK, grew up in the foothills of the German Alps some 4,300 years ago.

So were these prehistoric tourists? Well, more like prehistoric pilgrims, or perhaps immigrants coming to work at one of the most sacred and dynamic places in the prehistoric world. People often assume international travel is a new thing, starting in the age of luxury liners and really getting going when international flights became cheap, yet daring individuals and groups have been making long journeys for thousand of years. The Boy with the Amber Necklace and the Amesbury Archer could have taken boats along the coastline and rivers, and would have had to do a lot of walking too. They may have been helped along by a simple yet effective prehistoric navigation system. In the days when the waters teemed with fish and not plastic, and the forests were filled with wildlife and berries instead of discarded soda cans, the trip wouldn’t have been as hard as we think.

[Photo courtesy webmink via Gadling’s flickr pool]

More Egyptian pyramids to open to the public

Visitors to Egypt have always flocked to the pyramids of Giza and Saqqara. Many people don’t realize, however, that these are only the most famous of more than a hundred pyramids in the country. In fact, there’s a whole “pyramid field” to the west of Cairo that includes Giza, Saqqara, and numerous other groupings across a long swath of desert. Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities is now opening some of them to visitors for the first time.

At Dahshur, more than a dozen pyramids give an interesting lesson in pyramid construction. The largest of these were built in the Fourth Dynasty (c. 2613 to 2494 BC) just prior to those at Giza. The founder of this dynasty, the Pharaoh Sneferu, was quite the pyramid builder. His first attempt was at Meidum, 100 km (62 miles) south of Cairo. It collapsed, and he moved his workmen to Dahshur for his next try.

This was the famous Bent Pyramid, pictured above in a photo from Jon Bodsworth’s excellent collection at the Egypt Archive. Check out the gallery below for more of his work. The architects started building the pyramid at a 55 degree angle, but when the structure showed signs of weakness they chickened out and built the rest at a more stable angle of 43 degrees. This gives the pyramid unique appearance. The pyramid’s two interior passages will open for the first time to visitors in December. A third passage leads 25 meters (82 ft) to a nearby smaller pyramid of Sneferu’s queen so the two could have conjugal visits in the afterlife. His third try was the Red Pyramid, built at the safer 43 degree angle. It held up nicely and is the third largest pyramid in Egypt at 104 meters (345 ft) tall.

Other pyramids at Dahshur include smaller examples from later dynasties. They aren’t nearly as grandiose as the earlier ones, perhaps because later rulers couldn’t command as much authority or they simply had other things they needed to spend their money on. The Black Pyramid of Amenemhat III (c. 1860-1814 BC) makes for an odd photo. To save money, the architects only used stone on the outside, and when later generations stole it for other building projects, the mud brick interior was revealed. This has been weathering away for the last four thousand years and now looks a bit deflated, although it’s still impressive.

%Gallery-97617%Between Giza and Saqqara lies the royal necropolis of Abusir, home to 14 pyramids that will open to the public this month. The necropolis on the outskirts of modern-day Cairo was started in the fifth dynasty (c. 2494 to 2345 BC) after the previous dynasty had filled up Giza with pyramids and temples. Abusir’s pyramids are smaller than those at Giza, and some have all but disappeared after millennia of weathering, but the site is still worth visiting. Most are step pyramids like the famous one at Saqqara, not flat-sided “true” pyramids like those at Giza. Some have smaller pyramids next to them to house the pharaoh’s queens.

One pyramid, that of the pharaoh Neferefre, was never finished, and has given archaeologists a glimpse at the construction techniques that went into building these behemoths. Some people like to think the pyramids were built by aliens or people from Atlantis, but archaeological evidence and the Egyptians’ own written records prove they built the pyramids themselves.

These “new” pyramids are just a few of the large number of Egyptian attractions opening in the next three years. Several museums are under construction, and the area around the Pyramids of Giza has been cleaned up. This month the famous Avenue of Sphinxes between the temples of Luxor and Karnak is opening, with about 900 statues and a recently excavated Roman-era village nearby.

Note to budding Egyptologists: this article is way too short to cover all the various theories and discoveries at Abusir and Dahshur. You need a few books to cover all of them! A good start are the works of Miroslav Verner, including The Pyramids: The Mystery, Culture, and Science of Egypt´s Great Monuments and Abusir: The Realm of Osiris.

UNESCO ponders new World Heritage sites

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, better known as UNESCO, has announced that it will consider expanding their list of World Heritage Sites when the organization meets in Brazil in a few weeks time. The current list consists of 890 places from around the globe that are considered to have universal appeal for natural or cultural reasons.

There are 41 locations, in 35 countries, up for consideration this year, including first time contenders from Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, and Tajikistan. Kiribati has submitted the Phoenix Islands Protected Area for inclusion on the list, while the Bikini Atoll, a famous nuclear testing zone, represents the Marshall Islands’ hopes for their first World Heritage site. Tajikistan’s spectacular Pamir Mountains could be their first entry as well.

The UNESCO committee will also review the state of 31 of their current sites that have been listed as being in danger. Those sites could be under siege from a number of sources, including environmental concerns, urban development, poor management, increased tourism, wars, or other natural disasters. Last year, Germany’s Elbe Valley was de-listed because a new four-lane bridge was built through the region, while the Arabian Oryx Sanctuary in Oman was dropped because of poor conservation efforts.

The 34th meeting of the World Heritage Committee will take place in Brasilia from July 25 to August 3, with the final rulings on these new locations being decided then.

[Photo credit: Irene2005 via WikiMedia Commons]