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Fyrkat viking ring fortress in Denmark. Source: dudlajzov/Adobe Stock

Over 40 New Sites Added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List

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This week, anticipation and excitement filled the air at a prestigious conference held in Saudi Arabia as UNESCO, the vanguard of global cultural preservation, proudly expanded its prestigious list of protected world heritage sites by over 40 remarkable additions.

42 new World Heritage Sites were announced this week by The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, UNESCO, at a gathering in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Committee members selected sites from a list of nominations submitted throughout 2022 and 2023, and for a site to be included on the list it must represent “outstanding universal value,” meaning it has importance for everyone, and not just for the home nation.

Including the 42 new sites, the UNESCO World heritage list now comprises 1,100 locations across the world. These exemplary UNESCO World Heritage Sites include Machu Picchu in Peru, the ancient Inca mountaintop citadel featuring outstanding architecture; the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, a unique marine ecosystem; and the ancient center of Rome in Italy, preserving several millennia of cultural heritage.

Ethiopia’s Bale Mountains National Park are a new addition to the UNESCO World Heritage List. (Roger de la Harpe/Adobe/Stock)

Protecting Both Cultural and Natural Sites

The 42 new World Heritage Sites comprise 33 archaeological sites, and 9 natural areas of outstanding beauty. The archaeological sites include mystical burial grounds in Korea, Viking-age fortresses in Denmark, and towns and cities in Europe, including Kuldīga in Latvia, Erfurt in Germany and Zatec in the Czech Republic. Furthermore, several existing archaeological sites were expanded to include new areas, like for example, Koh Ker’s temple in Cambodia.

The Koh Ker pyramid, Cambodia. (thomaswanhoff/ CC BY-SA 2.0)

The natural sites added to the list include Ethiopia’s Bale Mountains National Park, Evaporitic Karst and Caves of the Northern Apennines in Italy, the Forest Massif of Odzala-Kokoua (Congo), and Volcanoes and Forests of Mount Pelée and the Pitons of Northern Martinique (France). And current natural sites that were expanded, include Madagascar’s Andrefana Dry Forest and Vietnam’s Cat Ba Archipelago in Ha Long Bay.

Outstanding Universal Value

For a site to be included in the UNESCO heritage list it must be regarded as being of “outstanding universal value,” and it must also meet one of 10 criteria. These stipulations include a site being “a superlative natural phenomena,” or “an area of exceptional natural beauty” or, that it exhibits “an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world”.

Mongolian deer stones. Right; Landscapes of Menorca in the Balearic Islands – Spain. (mondkuckuck/ Adobe/Stock), (Agustin/Adobe Stock

Fitting several of these criteria, standing at 13ft-tall (3.96m), and carved with stags, Mongolia’s “Deer Stones” served as sacrificial altars during Late Bronze Age (1200 to 600 BC) funerary rights. Also making the list, and again dated to the Bronze Age, Spain’s 'taylot structure' on the island of Menorca, in the western Mediterranean Sea was included because of the religious importance associated with its ‘astronomical orientation.’

Norway’s “UFO-Esque Crop Circles” Made the Unesco World Heritage List

In Norway, a group of stone settings, described by the DaIly Mail as “UFO-esque crop circles,” were actually Viking-age fortresses. Located in Aggersborg, Fyrkat, Nonnebakken, Trelleborg and Borgring, UNESCO noted their “strategic locations beside important land and sea routes.”

Another site that was included on the list was America’s Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks, on the Ohio River. Built between 2,000 and 1,600 years ago, these eight indigenous ceremonial structures reflect “precise geometric figures,” as well as hilltops that were altered to enclose vast plazas.

Behind Winners, There Are Always Losers

While over 40 sites were added to the UNESCO list in 2023, of course, some nations went home empty handed, like for example, the UK. Despite the UK government announcing in April that it was forwarding “seven sites,” including the city of York, Little Cayman Marine Parks and Protected Areas and the Zenith of Iron Age Shetland,” not one of them was added to the UNESCO list.

Each new inclusion represents a threatened natural site of special scientific interest, or a hand-built beacon of human achievement, which UNESCO promises to safeguard. These unparalleled cultural and natural wonders will now be protected for future generations, and the global history loving community can sleep easier knowing their children can also be infused with awe and reverence for the past.

Top image: Fyrkat viking ring fortress in Denmark. Source: dudlajzov/Adobe Stock

By Ashley Cowie

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Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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