Cahokia Mounds: A World Heritage Site

Shannon Wright

In 1972, the World Heritage System was adopted by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Its mission is to maintain the world's heritage by selecting sites in nations around the world that should be preserved for generations to come.
Currently 147 states have signed the convention. By signing, each state vows to preserve historically significant sites within their borders.
The sites that are chosen to be part of the World Heritage System must be both culturally and naturally significant. But being chosen is no easy nor short process. Being selected to World Heritage is a process that can take up to two years. To nominate a particular site, the state where the site is located submits such information as: name of the property, geographic location, brief description, and justification of the "outstanding universal value" of the site and its authenticity and integrity. All of this must be submitted by the given deadline to be considered in a given year. If the deadline is not met the application is shelved until the following year.

Once all of the applications have been received, two nongovernmental organizations assist in the selection process. The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and the World Conservation Union (IUCN) take the applications and examine them to see if they meet the standards of the World Heritage Convention.
The main principle the center vows to uphold when creating the World Heritage list is to "provide for the protection of those cultural and natural properties to be of outstanding universal value."
Examples of sites that have met these requirements are places such as: the grand Canyon, the Galapagos Islands, Volklingen Ironworks, and the Citadel of Haiti. Another site that was honored by being considered a center of heritage, is a large area of pre-Columbian inhabitation just a few miles each of St. Louis, Missouri called Cahokia Mounds.

Cahokia Mounds was chosen as a World Heritage historic site because it "provides the most complete source of information on pre-Columbian civilizations in the regions of the Mississippi." At its peak, Cahokia was home to thousands of people. It was a center of trade and learning. The hard work of the people is evident by the huge mounds these sedentary people constructed.
A visit to the site and discussion with an archaeologist indicated the benefits being part of the World Heritage System brought to Cahokia. "Being inducted into World Heritage gives you the leverage to be able to obtain new things." After being accepted in 1982, Cahokia began plans for a new interpretive visitors center. The center, which now sits close to the center of the site, was approved in 1984. At least 80 structures and unknown numbers of pits had to be excavated in order to begin construction.

Once a site is added to the list it may be removed if the standards of World Heritage are not upheld. World Heritage provides assistance to those who need it in order to prevent this from happening. A fund is set up that each state party pays into and it is used to help those sites that are in jeopardy of losing their position.

Cahokia may begin to need some of that money if deterioration of the mounds continues. Cahokia is currently threatened by a highway that runs parallel to Monks Mound. this mound, a three-tiered structure is the largest of the mounds, and soil from the sides of the mound is slowly eroding due to the vibrations from the nearby interstate highway.
When asked why people in the present should care about people in the past, Cahokia's archaeologists replied "Everyone needs to know who came before them, and that the stereotypes we hear about these people are usually not true." More on why Cahokia deserved its position as a World Heritage Site follows.

For additional information on World Heritage designation

Cahokia a designated World Heritage site

A listing of World Heritage sites around the world

What is World Heritage?

World Heritage Information Network (WHIN)

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