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Celebrate World Heritage Archeology

What do Cahokia Mound State Historic Site in Illinois, Chaco Culture in New Mexico, Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, and Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument near Hawaii have in common? Here’s a hint: they share this distinction with the Greek Acropolis, the Italian site of Pompeii, and the Mexican city of Teotihuacan.

These places have each been recognized as World Heritage Sites commemorating our ancient cultural heritage. A few rare places are of such outstanding universal value that they are important to the whole world. World Heritage recognizes and celebrates our common humanity: our common struggles, ambitions, achievements.

The United States proposed the World Heritage Convention to the international community and was the first nation to ratify it. By 2007, 183 nations had ratified the World Heritage Convention, and 830 sites had been placed on the World Heritage List. Each participating nation retains sovereignty and control over its World Heritage Sites and pledges to protect these natural and cultural sites as part of the heritage of humanity and to cooperate with each other to achieve that goal.

The United States cares for eight cultural and twelve natural properties that have been recognized by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as World Heritage Sites. The three mentioned above are properties with extraordinary archeological significance.

Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument is a 1,200 mile-long string of islands, atolls, coral reefs, and adjacent waters, running northwest from the main Hawaiian islands and encompassing over 89 million acres, is one of the world's largest and most significant marine protected areas. Native Hawaiians reached these islands at least 1,000 years before any other people and planted settlements on some of them, where there are important archeological sites. The islands retain great cultural and spiritual significance to Native Hawaiians.

One thousand years ago, Cahokia was the regional center for Mississippian culture. It is famous for Monks Mound, the largest pre-Columbian earthen architecture in the United States, as well as for many smaller mounds that were part of this site, and for the “woodhenges” that were apparently constructed as calendars.

An ancient center of ancestral Puebloan culture between AD 850 and 1250, Chaco Canyon forms the core of the regional network of communities, connected by engineered roads. The Chaco Culture World Heritage Site is comprised of Chaco Culture National Historical Park, Aztec Ruins National Monument and five units administered by the Bureau of Land Management: Twin Angels, Casamero, Kin Nizhoni, Pierre's Site, and Halfway House.

Mesa Verde is well known for its cliff dwellings, built around AD 550 and occupied until the end of the 13th century. Mesa Verde has a sister parks relationship with the Archeological zone of Paquime, Casas Grandes, and the archeological site of Monte Alban, both World Heritage Sites in Mexico.

Through UNESCO, the global community recognizes that conservation of sites and monuments contributes to social cohesion and a sense of common heritage. Archeological sites are an important part of that global common ground.

  • Birds perch atop ancient upright stones placed by Hawaiian ancestors on the island of Mokumanamana.
  • Cahokia mounds and woodhenge. (Photo by James Q. Jacobs, http://www.jqjacobs.net/photos/)
  • The West Ruin at Aztec Ruins National Monument is the largest of many ancestral Puebloan remains preserved at this site. The three-storied building consists of some 400 contiguous rooms that surround a central plaza dominated by the reconstructed Great Kiva. (NPS photo)
  • Wall painting inside Mesa Verde cliff dwelling. (NPS Photo)