On Saturday, October 11, Louisiana Lt. Govenor Jay Dardenne, U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, and National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis unveiled a plaque celebrating the June 22 inscription of Poverty Point on the UNESCO World Heritage List. With this prodigious distinction, the monumental earthworks at Poverty Point became 1,001st World Heritage Site, joining an exclusive group that includes the Great Wall of China, Stonehenge, Taj Mahal, and the Pyramids of Giza. There are 21 other U.S. sites on the list, which honors outstanding natural and cultural significance. Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Canyon, and the Statue of Liberty all share this distinction.
In addition to Director Jarvis, National Park Service representatives at the ceremony included Jon Smith, Deputy Associate Director of Preservation Assistance Programs, Laura Gates, Superintendent of Cane River Creole National Historical Park, Michael Madell, Superintendent of Vicksburg National Military Park, Susan Snow, Archeologist at San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, and Adam Cox and Ed FitzGerald from the National Center for Preservation Technology & Training.
At its peak, over 3,000 years ago, Poverty Point was part of an extensive trading network that stretched for hundreds of miles across the continent. Artifacts discovered at the site located in northeastern Louisiana have been identified as coming from as far north as the Great Lakes and as far east as the Appalachian Mountains. Unlike Stonehenge, the Giza Pyramids, or most other prehistoric monumental sites, the people who constructed Poverty Point are believed to have been hunter-gatherers rather than agriculturalists.
Archeologists estimate that 25-million cubic feet of earth and 5-million hours of labor were used to build the earthworks and mounds that make up the site. Though the original purposes of Poverty Point have not been determined by archaeologists, they have proposed various possibilities including that it was a settlement, a trading center, and/or a ceremonial religious complex.
Despite it’s outstanding significance, inscription was not assured. The site is located on a broad 910-acre plaza along Bayou Maçon, only a portion of which is under the management and protection of the Louisiana Office of State Parks. World Heritage status requires protection of the characteristics for which a property is inscribed–but, the potential for inappropriate development, the impact of increased tourism, and threats from an eroding river bank all could have derailed the Poverty Point nomination. Inscription was also jeopardized by an awkward political situation–the loss of U.S. voting rights in UNESCO. Nevertheless, last-minute political maneuvering and overwhelming international support saved the nomination which was approved along with 26 other sites inscribed during the 38th session of the World Heritage Committee held in Doha, Qatar.
The staff of the National Park Service and the National Center for Preservation Technology & Training congratulate all of those whose tireless efforts brought Poverty Point World Heritage Site the international recognition it so rightly deserves.