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GHF in the News - Featured Articles

GHF in the News

5 overlooked world treasures

September 2014


You’ve already hiked up to Machu Picchu and climbed up and down the thousands of stairs of the Great Wall of China. We bet you’ve also stood awestruck before the Hagia Sofia and the Taj Majal.

You’re a regular Tony Wheeler, who co-founded Lonely Planet travel company more than 40 years ago. Like you, he’s visited most of the world’s major wonders of the world and almost everything else worth seeing.

Wheeler and fellow world explorer Vince Michael, head of the Global Heritage Fund, are always looking for hidden places to discover. By all means, they say, visit Angkor Wat and the Hagia Sophia. Go there and check them off your bucket list.

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GHF in the News

Lonely Planet's Tony Wheeler On Travel With A Purpose

September 2014


These days, however, Wheeler is occupied with other matters than business.  He’s signed up as an advisor to the Global Heritage Fund, a Bay Area non-profit devoted to preserving archaeological sites around the world and supporting them with sustainable tourism. This year, Wheeler spent over a month traveling to Turkey and Romania to visit various GHF sites.

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GHF Executive Director Vince Michael in the News

Unlikely Causes: The Technology of Heritage Preservation and Human Rights Movements

September 2014


Today, preservationists are in a unique position: constantly racing against the clock to document, repair and maintain temples, structures, fortresses, and even human cultures, on the verge of collapse. What many of us don’t realize is that heritage is central to the human condition — it is what makes us human. Sadly many such sites are in danger of becoming too fragile to repair. So it stands that innovation in the technology industry is heritage’s best friend — allowing for duplication and preservation of the echoes of the past, far into the future.

GHF in the News

Founder of Lonely Planet on Heritage Preservation

August 2014


In far-flung places around the globe, there are endangered cultural sites in need of preservation, which spurs tourism and economic enrichment in nearby communities. Heritage conservation not only preserves historical record, but it can also open up a previously difficult-to-visit location to travelers and give them a whole new view of the region and its culture.

Tony Wheeler, founder of Lonely Planet and board member of Global Heritage Fund, has been to many “dangerous” sites on the planet, whether they are located in regions where there was a history of civil unrest or environmental hazards. But his aim, along with Vince Michael, executive director of Global Heritage Fund, is to encourage travelers (intrepid and armchair) to expand their horizons and explore these areas, many of which are heritage development sites that ultimately benefit local communities with tourism income.

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GHF Guizhou in the News

Preserving Changes - Cultural Landscape Conservation and Rural Development in Guizhou, China

August 2014


The foundation of the traditional Chinese social structure is largely composed of smallholder farmers. The resultant vernacular culture is rooted in the land that provides for the settlers and is strongly dependent on its natural environment. Therefore, in comparison to an urban environment, a rural settlement possesses more distinct regional cultural traits and stability under normal circumstances. In the face of aggressive urbanization and drastic rapid social changes in modern China, such stability and cultural continuation is being gravely challenged.

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GHF in the News

Syria warns rebels' bid to target Aleppo's ancient citadel

August 2014


In its annual report on the status-quo of archaeological sites, the General Directorate of Syria’s Antiquities and Museums (DGMA), the government’s arm to protect and promote all national heritage, focused on what had befallen the archeological sites in Aleppo, pointing out that some incidents, including the destruction of the minaret of the Umayyad Mosque, which is one of the most important archaeological mosques in Syria.

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Pingyao in the News

15 Gorgeous Spots That Take Us Back In Time...Without The Crowds

July 2014


Sure, you could hop over to Paris or London or Rome for a bit of vacation and a history lesson. But wouldn’t it be fun to go some place that isn’t your typical tourist destination?

These 15 spots—towns with charming medieval squares or even gorgeous old castles—will provide all the history you want, without the big time crowds.

See the sites here.

GHF in the News

How Lasers, Radar, and Local Economies Are Helping Save World Heritage Sites

June 2014


The Global Heritage Fund, a non-profit based in Silicon Valley, is eager to employ novel technological approaches to the evergreen problem of protecting cultural history. Since the organization was founded in 2001, they have used LIDAR laser technology, ground-penetrating radar, satellite maps, and crowdsourcing to help preserve and promote heritage sites.

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Ciudad Perdida, Colombia in the News

A Tale of Cities Lost and Found

June 2014


In recent years (2010-2014) and in my capacity as Colombia Program Director for the Global Heritage Fund, our efforts at Teyuna-Ciudad Perdida have concentrated on solving a great number of issues and problems that emerged in the past 30 years that threatened the park’s future. In alliance with the Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History, the Colombian Park Service, the outfitters and guides, and the indigenous and peasant councils of the Buritaca Basin we have developed a number of heritage conservation, environmental, and community development projects that will hopefully ensure sustainable visitation in the foreseeable future.

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GHF In the News

5 Endangered Destinations and the Best Ways to See Them

April 2014


If you’re yearning to visit an off-the-beaten-path location—somewhere unsullied by outsiders and touristy souvenir shops—let the Global Heritage Fund (GHF) be your guide. In honor of World Heritage Day, which took place April 18, the fund released a list of five endangered cultural heritage sites in Europe, Asia and South America that it’s working to preserve. To see these sites for yourself, plan a trip using our tips on where to go and what to do. (One big “do”: Make sure you’re being a responsible traveler—often, unfettered tourism is one of the biggest threats facing these spots.)

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GHF in the News

Women of Monumental Importance

April 2014


Female archaeologists and scholars are on the front lines in the fight to save precious ancient sites, cultures, and communities. Meet some of the most exciting innovators.

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GHF in the News

Five endangered sites worth saving

April 2014


Endangered cultural sites are the stars of the annual International Day for Monuments and Sites—more commonly known as World Heritage Day—on April 18.

Some of these wonders are part of the Global Heritage Fund’s first annual list of five endangered cultural sites, issued to mark the day and draw attention to the fund’s work. The day was first adopted as a concept in 1983 to draw attention to the cultural heritage of communities around the world.

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GHF Göbekli Tepe in the News

Göbekli Tepe, an early Neolithic wonder in Turkey

April 2014


TURKEY - Göbekli Tepe in south-eastern Turkey, is one of the most exciting and historically significant archaeological sites currently being excavated anywhere in the world. Dating to the earliest Neolithic period, its significance is demonstrated by its construction implying organisation of an advanced order not previously associated with early societies. Göbekli Tepe has been interpreted as the oldest human-made place of worship yet discovered. The Global Heritage Fund (GHF), the non-profit organisation working to protect, preserve and sustain the most significant and endangered cultural heritage sites in the developing world, has been working at the site to support the preparation of a site management plan and conservation plan, the construction of a shelter over the exposed archaeological features, training local community members in guiding and conservation and aiding Turkish authorities in securing World Heritage Site inscription. Here is a summary of the activities taking place at the site that GHF has shared with NiC.

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Ciudad Perdida in the News

Santiago Giraldo Old School Operator

April 2014


Santiago Giraldo directs the Global Heritage Fund’s Colombia Heritage Program, focusing on the Ciudad Perdida, or “Lost City,” of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains.

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The Carpathian Villages Preservation Project in the News

Transforming the rural fabric of the Carpathian Villages in Romania

April 2014


The villages of Romania, particularly those in Southern Saxon Transylvania, are a unique survival.

These villages, the hay meadows and the forests which surround them are a last outpost of a central European Medieval landscape, forming a vast and extraordinary ensemble stretching for 100 miles from East to West, and about 60 miles from North to South. The architecture is of very gentle and unique nature, or was until recently, built using stone from the nearby hills, lime from local kilns, oak from the deep forests and handmade bricks and tiles by the Romanians who lived in the area.

GHF in the News

Syrian Forces Reclaim Historic Crusader Castle From Rebels

March 2014


In its attempt to take the castle during the preceding months, the Syrian military attacked the site several times with aerial bombardments, notes Emma Cunliffe, an archaeologist at Britain’s Durham University. “The main damage to the castle has come from the air strikes, so it will be protected from them now,” says Cunliffe, who specializes in historic sites under threat and recently released a survey on Syria’s cultural heritage in conflict for the Global Heritage Fund, an organization that seeks to preserve imperiled historic sites. But the citadel, with its commanding position over key transit points, and important rebel resupply lines, is unlikely to stay uncontested for long. Whether the site stays out of danger is largely dependent on the rebel’s next move, says Cunliffe, like “what ordnance the rebels have access to and whether they will fight to retake it.”

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Göbekli Tepe in the News

Göbekli Tepe – Developing tourism & the Urfa region

March 2014


Göbekli Tepe (Turkey) has become a major factor in the development of the Urfa region. This rising public interest is reflected in a growing stream of visitors on-site.

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GHF in the News

The Cost of War: Syria, Three Years On

March 2014


The war has seen devastating attacks on the country’s archaeological heritage. All six of Syria’s UNESCO world heritage sites have been damaged by rocket, tank and small arms fire, according to the Global Heritage Fund, which details the destruction of the country’s historical sites. Regional museums have been looted, as have thousands of half-excavated archaeological sites. Aleppo, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, has borne the brunt of the destruction. The wooden gates of its medieval citadel have been smashed, and a fire sparked by fighting destroyed around 500 shops in the ancient, 7.5-mile long covered market. Byzantine mosaics have been lifted wholesale from the Roman and Greek ruins of Palmyra, and soldiers and rebels now occupy several other significant heritage sites.

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GHF Pingyao in the News

Pingyao: the great Wall Street of China

March 2014


China’s modern banking industry was born nearly 200 years ago in a small town in the middle of nowhere, a place where today ordinary people still live in the midst of extraordinary architectural splendour. Other Chinese cities have been more than happy to bury their history under skyscrapers but Pingyao, the original Chinese Wall Street and perhaps the best-preserved ancient city in China, chose not to.

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GHN in the News

Syria's heritage in ruins: before-and-after pictures

January 2014


They were sleepy tree-lined boulevards where people lived and worked, time-worn markets where they came to trade and exquisitely detailed mosques where, throughout the ages, they prayed.

All now stand in ruins, ravaged by a war that is not only killing generations of Syrians but also eradicating all around them, including sites that have stood since the dawn of civilisation. Across Syria, where a seemingly unstoppable war is about to enter a third year, a heritage built over 5,000 years or more is being steadily buried under rubble.

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GHF Banteay Chhmar in the News

Angkor Wat, Cambodia: a guide to avoiding the crowds

January 2014


The first time it happened was a surprise. Like hundreds of thousands of other tourists that year I was visiting Angkor, the Khmer temple complex in Cambodia that is one of the biggest draws in south-east Asia. But my excitement was tempered with concern that too many people had been here before me.

Whatever the number of visitors, it seems Angkor remains untameable. Even so, the intrepid can get off the beaten track to a temple called Banteay Chhmar, 63 miles north of the main Angkor complex, the most remote of the 74 accessible sites. By car it takes more than three hours, by helicopter a mere 40 minutes. If you plan to stay overnight the only accommodation option is to stay in one of the six local houses that are signed up to the Banteay Chhmar homestay project.

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Pingyao No. 10 of Top 100 destinations in the world

100 Best Value Destinations in the World: trivago

January 2014


Based on the annual average overnight price of a standard double room, and the overall hotel reputation of the destinations from over 82 million traveller reviews, hotel search website trivago has enlisted 100 Best Value Destinations in the World. Five destinations from India feature on the list. TravelBiz Monitor presents findings of the survey, offering destination options for every travel budget.

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GHF Cyrene in the News

Peter Snow's Travelling Life

December 2013


Peter Snow, the broadcaster and author, on incredible train journeys, fascinating sites and food in the Middle East and surviving a plane crash near Seattle

Interview by Caroline Rees

How often do you travel?
I’m away three or four months a year, though I used to travel far more when I was working for ITN and Newsnight. I couldn’t bear life to be static. This year, I’ve been sailing for a month in south-west England. We have a 43ft yacht and we take it everywhere – the Baltic, the Mediterranean, across the Atlantic. My wife [broadcaster Ann MacMillan] is Canadian so we’ve had a month’s family holiday in the Lake of Bays area, 100 miles north of Toronto. I’ve also done a research trip to Washington for my new book to see the burn marks that the British Army made on the White House 200 years ago.

Favourite historical site?
Cyrene in Libya – not an easy place to get to these days. It’s an astonishing Greek and Roman ruined city, with a magnificent view of a great plain stretching away to the sea in a part of Libya that is quite heavily vegetated. It’s very exciting to see something you’ve studied, looking out for little details, like inscriptions or statuettes.

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Göbekli Tepe in the News

Wandering Between Sacred Foxes and Abraham

December 2013


It is day two of my seven-day walk-and-talk with a group of seven friends. Our purpose: to test new sections of the Abraham Path between Urfa and Harran in southeastern Turkey and then climb up into the mountains north of the mythical Euphrates river. We come across plenty of landmarks not immediately associated with Abraham: we walk past an ancient Yezidi shrine and mysterious Roman ruins, visit the world’s oldest religious temple and in a day or two will scout desert rock carvings in devotion to the sun and the moon gods. These places pretty much sum up everything Abraham rebelled against: especially in the Muslim and Jewish traditions, he was the father of monotheism, the belief in One God. But to me they are no lesser part of the story of this region.

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GHF in the News

The Forgotten Casualty of War

December 2013


Egypt’s sphinx, Iraq’s Babylonian ruins, and Syria’s ancient Greek columns; countries have long been identified by their cultural treasures. The loss of artifacts and destruction of historical sites not only deprives countries of their history, but also of a source of economic security. “Without the Great Pyramids, we could only imagine the magnificence of the Egyptian Kingdom and its architectural influence in the region. If the Great Wall of China was lost, the true oriental journey could not be re-lived,” asserts Global Heritage Fund (GHF) Communications Manager, Elinor Betesh.

View Article(PDF)

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GHF in the News

Museum Aims to Capture Sights and Sounds of Old Beijing

November 2013


The heart of Beijing once consisted of an extensive network of narrow alleys called hutongs. Linking the city’s traditional courtyard homes, these residential neighborhoods were a hive of activity. In recent years, however, much of that old city has disappeared, with vast numbers of courtyard residences being demolished by the cranes of real-estate developers eager to build high-rises or other developments.

UNESCO estimates that 88% of the city’s courtyard homes have been destroyed, while the Global Heritage Fund estimates that only about 600,000 of Beijing’s more than 20 million residents live in hutongs today. The recently opened Shijia Hutong Museum attempts to capture the sights and sounds of this traditional way of life that may soon be easier to find in a museum than in modern Beijing.

The first museum dedicated to hutong life and siheyuan – the courtyard homes that when joined side by side comprise a hutong—it is set inside the recently renovated Shijia Hutong No. 24, just east of the Forbidden City.

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GHF Sites in the News

7 Most Mysterious Places In The World

October 2013


There is so much we can learn about the ancient world. With every discovery, archaeologists uncover more about civilizations that came before us. What we know, however, is nothing compared to the questions left unanswered.

Even today, these 7 historic places remain obscure and mysterious to us:

Plain of Jars
Measuring up to 10 feet in height, these jars are spread out in clusters all across the Xieng Khouang province of Laos. In some of these clusters, there are over 250 jars. Some believe they were used as burial sites, or according to legend, giants may have used these jars to store their alcohol.

Gobekli Tepe
This religious site in Urfa, Turkey was built in 10,000 BC, predating the Great Pyramids by 7,000 years. Excavations only recently started in 1995, but many questions have already come up. In an age when only hunter-gatherers roamed, how were they able to build such complex structures?

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GHF Guizhou in the News

As China's villages vanish, one pins hopes on tourism for survival

August 2013


Dali, Guizhou (CNN)—Wandering through this remote village nestled among ancient forests and bamboo groves in China’s poorest province, it’s easy to imagine that life here has changed little over the centuries.

Along narrow pathways shaded by the tiled eaves of wooden houses, men deftly balance bamboo carrying poles laden with chillies grown in fields nearby, while women wearing traditional indigo shirts pound dirty laundry in the river.

But change is coming to Dali, a village of 300 households in the southwestern Chinese province of Guizhou.

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GHF Founder Jeff Morgan in the News

Challenges Facing World Heritage in Africa Today

August 2013


Africa is a magical continent with rich history and diverse living heritage, but most countries are facing major challenges to preserve their cultural heritage sites. I recently visited the Kenyan coast to see how a relatively prosperous Kenya is managing its global heritage.

We visited two global heritage sites on the Indian Ocean—Lamu Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the Gede National Monument on the UNESCO Tentative List. Lamu is Kenya’s oldest continually inhabited town and Gede is an impressive Swahili settlement with hundreds of structures and great public architecture from the 14-17th centuries still preserved in a lush jungle setting.

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GHF Board Member Tony Wheeler in the News

My Travel Routine: Lonely Planet Founder Tony Wheeler

July 2013


Tony Wheeler didn’t invent the guidebook, but as the co-founder, with his wife, Maureen, of Lonely Planet, he has influenced through his books at least two generations of budget-minded, open-minded world travelers. The couple sold their stake in the publisher in 2011, but Tony remains involved in travel through the Global Heritage Fund, a non-profit that works to preserve what Wheeler calls “second-level archeological sites” that often don’t get the funding that iconic destinations like Machu Picchu and Angkor Wat can draw.

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GHF Executive Director Vince Michael in the News

Six Syrian heritage sites declared endangered

July 2013


UNESCO says that more than two years of civil war have inflicted heavy damage on ancient sites.

Six ancient sites in Syria, including the city of Aleppo which has suffered considerable damage in the course of the country’s ongoing conflict, have been added to the endangered World Heritage list, UNESCO says.

The other sites to be added are the ancient cities of Damascus and Bosra, the oasis of Palmyra, the castles of Crac des Chevaliers and Qal’at Salah El-Din - also known as the Fortress of Saladin -  and the ancient villages of northern Syria.

“Due to the armed conflict situation in Syria, the conditions are no longer present to ensure the conservation and protection of the Outstanding Universal Value of the six World Heritage properties,” a UNESCO document said.

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GHF Executive Director Vince Michael in the News

Postcard from Libya

June 2013


Everywhere you look in the Old City of Tripoli are banners and flags of the ‘new Libya’—in fact a flag from the time of the Kingdom. The street markets in the Old City are vibrant, perhaps because the banking system still remains volatile some twenty months after the revolution that overthrew the 42-year long Qaddafi dictatorship.

Libya is a cultural landmark—a country that stands at the crossroads of the Middle East and Africa, inhabited by nomads, merchants and religious pilgrims who have all left their mark, be it in the glorious ruins of Sabrata, Leptis Magna and Shahhat (Cyrene) or in the fierce and unbreakable spirit of the Libyan people today.

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GHF Cyrene in the News

8 things to know before visiting Libya

May 2013


(CNN)—Following Libya’s revolution, oil production has been restored and the country has slipped from the front pages.

Once more, Libya has become North African rather than southern Mediterranean, and news dispatches surface only when Western government’s worst fears appear close to being realized.

As most Libyans admit that after four-plus decades of Moammar Gadhafi, it will take time to build a mature democracy. Yet Libyans remain hopeful that progress is being made.

For travelers, this means a renewed opportunity to explore one of Africa’s most interesting states.

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GHF in the Epoch Times

Preserving Mayan Civilization, Nurturing Current Community

May 2013


Efforts to preserve the 51 Mayan cities in Cuenca Mirador, northern Guatemala, are also providing training in forest stewardship and other life skills for locals.

When Richard Hansen arrived at the site in northern Guatemala in 1978 to establish the Mirador Basin Project, the area was much troubled. Since the site’s discovery in 1926, treasure thieves had devastated the exposed archaeological sites—many of the characteristic white plaster reliefs were destroyed or stolen.

The Global Heritage Fund (GHF) is working with the Mirador Basin Project to educate locals, but the groups are seeking further support within Guatemala and beyond its borders to step up preservation efforts.

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GHF Executive Director Vince Michael in the News

Culture wars: why attack heritage?

May 2013


“Often an attack on monuments is an attack on group identity and culture. It is as if the larger conflict is posited between two cultural elements. They try to destroy these iconic identities, ” Vince Michael of the Global Heritage Fund says.

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GHF in the News

Aphrodisias: A Land of Beauty, A Land of Harmony

May 2013


Archaeology—with its unique approach towards interpreting antiquity while at the same time preserving treasured sites and heritages—demonstrates our shared humanity. Few sites display the unity among people so profoundly as the once bustling, dazzling Aphrodisias with its unique spiritual atmosphere.

Numinous, analogous to Chichen Itza, Delphi, and Jerusalem with various cultures united across time within their borders—Aphrodisias today engenders an ambience of peace while personifying in marble its resident deity, the goddess Aphrodite.

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GHF in the News

Syria's cultural heritage under attack during bloody civil war

March 2013


Amid a two-year bloody civil war that has killed an estimated 70,000 civilians and left 2.5 million people homeless, a profound loss of another kind has unfolded inside Syria – an attack on the country’s cultural heritage, as missiles demolish ancient sites and looters steal artifacts as old as civilization. 

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GHF in the News

GHF's Top 10 Sites for 10th Anniversary

February 2013


Gobekli Tepe

Global Heritage Fund is celebrating its 10th anniversary as the world’s only NGO focused on helping the world’s poorest communities by investing in their local heritage, comprising some of the most important and endangered heritage sites across the developing world. The co-funded conservation and community development programs lend professional training and education opportunities to local communities as the stakeholders of their heritage – monuments and arts alike. Here’s to another monumental decade. In this image: Gobekli Tepe, Turkey.

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GHF Ciudad Perdida in the News

Lost Kingdoms of South America - Lands of Gold

February 2013


Through the mountains and jungles of Colombia, archaeologist Dr Jago Cooper goes in search of the truth behind one of the greatest stories ever told - the legend of El Dorado.

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GHF in the News

Global Heritage Fund Sets Tech Goals for History Conservation

January 2013


SAN FRANCISCO—Uncovering lost cities in India, preserving “earthen buildings” in China, and turning a historical site built in A.D. 400 in Peru into a viable tourist destination, were all projects made possible by the growth of an idea born in Palo Alto, Calif.

“I think it’s this tradition of innovation that characterizes not just the Valley, but California as a whole. It’s a place where people come up with new ideas,” said Dr. Vince Michael, newly promoted executive director of the Silicon Valley-based Global Heritage Fund (GHF).

GHF kicked off the new year with its decade-long executive director and founder, Jeff Morgan, being elected board vice chairman and with Michael being appointed new executive director.

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GHF in the News

Sifting the Dust for Treasures While Trouble Swirls

January 2013


KARKEMISH, TURKEY — The Syrian civil war is not the first conflict to complicate Professor Nicolò Marchetti’s efforts to turn Karkemish, an ancient city site on the banks of the Euphrates, on Turkey’s southern border and inside a restricted military zone, into a public archaeology park.

Before his team started digging, under the watchful eyes of armed Turkish soldiers, he had to make sure that land mines planted in the 1950s had all been cleared away.

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GHF in the News

Buddhas in 3-D: Technology and the battle to preserve Asia's heritage

January 2013


Hong Kong (CNN)—A darkened room in a Hong Kong university building is an unlikely portal into an ancient world.

But with the touch of an iPad Mini, the space is digitally transformed into a 1,500-year-old Buddhist grotto. Its walls decorated with exquisite but faded paintings of enlightened beings, dancers and musicians.

Another swipe and a pair of 3-D glasses brings the cave to life.

Vivid pigments show how the cave must have looked when the paint first dried and animation and magnification reveal the tiniest of details.

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GHF Rakhigarhi in the News

History | What their lives reveal

January 2013


Haryana’s Rakhigarhi, where individuals possess ancient, priceless treasures, will soon be on the world heritage map

Wazir Chand Saroae is a slight, nearsighted man with a shuffling gait, the go-to man when electrical appliances in the village need fixing. His house is like any other here—compact, two-storeyed, neat. There are no signs at all to suggest that in a small room on the first floor of this house, Saroae is sitting on a treasure trove that is both priceless and timeless.

Now he can give you detailed descriptions of the various types of Harappan pottery and figurines, tell you about the great Harappan city that once stood where the village and its farmland is, down to town planning details, and walk you through the most important areas for archaeological excavations.

New beginnings
All of this is set to change. The Global Heritage Fund (GHF), a non-profit organization based in the US that works to preserve the world’s most endangered heritage sites, put Rakhigarhi on its project in 2012. This makes the Harappan site one of GHF’s 13 projects worldwide, which include Ping Yao Ancient City in China and Ur in Iraq.

“The scope of this site should be emphasized,” says Dan Thompson, director, global projects, Global Heritage Network. “It is large and was occupied for a long period. The potential for research and knowledge is amazing, and I think that with skilled archaeologists, historians and designers, you can craft that knowledge into a compelling narrative that people will want to see.”

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GHF in the News

Hidden Gems of History

December 2012


A visit to well-known ancient sites like Machu Picchu often tops travelers’ to-do lists. But unlike the serene journey to a pristine historic structure that you imagine, the real trip there often involves streets clogged with taxis, admission tickets with prices that will give you sticker shock and, once you’re at the site itself, a thicket of camera-wielding tourists.

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GHF Ciudad Perdida in The News

Archaeologists Explore Colombia's Lost City

December 2012


A team of archaeologists are uncovering remains of an ancient city that, until recently, had been unknown to most of the outside world for centiuries. Known today as Ciudad Perdida (or Teyuna), Spanish for “Lost City”, it is one of Colombia’s most spectacular heritage sites, despite the fact that relatively few of the world’s travelers have even known of its existence. Inhabited by the Tayrona people until the end of the 16th century and tucked away within the lush jungles of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta not far from the Colombian coastline, it is made up of hundreds of stone terraces and rings, which archaeologists believe were used as foundations for temples, dwellings and plazas.  Although the Tayrona built more than 250 towns across a 2,000 square mile area, few are as large or as impressive as Ciudad Perdida, which is believed to have been a regional center of political, social and economic power, home to around 3,000 people.

Dr. Santiago Giraldo, who has led efforts to investigate and restore the site and who will also be directing the upcoming surveys, shows the jungle-shrouded region from his smartphone tablet to a news correspondent. “What we’re going to be doing in the next few field seasons is explore all this area right here that you see as forest cover.” he says, “because we’ve been finding that the structures keep on going down toward the river, and that area hasn’t been surveyed. So we’re trying to understand to what extent this city actually extends down to the river and what would be its limits.”

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GHF in the News

Cultural Authenticity in the 21st Century

December 2012


At last May’s Forum on Global Heritage in a Developing World, I was struck by the following words from young Chinese economist, Yan Zhang: “Authenticity should not be static. It should be dynamic and evolving.”

Enshrined in the Venice Charter of 1964, “authenticity” has always been a keyword in the lexicon of heritage conservationists. Generally speaking, it means avoiding conjectural reconstructions and insisting on historical evidence to support methods. But while that definition is largely scientific, Yan’s words more accurately portray authenticity as a moving target.

For over a decade, I’ve watched heritage preservation evolve in two major ways. First, there was the shift from purely archaeological and architectural monuments to an increased emphasis on intangible heritage: folkways, languages, music, arts, costume, ritual and other traditions. Second, we are now recognizing heritage preservation as not just a series of international curation standards, but a dynamic process whereby a community determines which elements of its past should be carried into the future.

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GHF in the News

Syrians risk lives in battle to protect nation's ancient sites

November 2012


Even as civil war tears the nation apart, it seems Syrians can agree about one thing: The need to protect the country’s antiquities and World Heritage Sites that represent thousands of years of human history.

Rebel fighters and ordinary citizens are risking their lives to document the damage being done to Syria’s ancient treasures and museums, according to Western monitors.

All six World Heritage Sites have now suffered damage as the conflict widens, according to Emma Cunliffe, a volunteer monitor for the non-profit Global Heritage Fund.

“Pictures and video evidence gathered by people on the ground shows the extent of the damage and prove that none of these sites are now safe from the conflict,” said Cunliffe, a postgraduate student at Britain’s Durham University.

‘A loss to human civilization’
Dan Thompson, director of global projects at the Global Heritage Fund, said that there was little that could be done until the fighting stopped.

A Cluster Bomb reportedly dropped by Syrian government warplanes has killed up to 10 children as they played in a village on the outskirts of Damascus. Warning: There are distressing images. ITV’s Bill Neely reports.
“The continuing damage and destruction of World Heritage Sites and other national antiquities in Syria during the present conflict is not only a loss to human civilization, but also greatly reduces the socio-economic potential these sites offer to local communities and the country as a whole,” he said in a statement.

GHF Banteay Chhmar in the News

Banteay Chhmar – Cambodian Ruins

November 2012


Last week I was in Banteay Chhmar , an Angkorian ruins site in the far north-east of Cambodia. I was there with John Sanday, the British archaeologist who has been working on this site for three years now. John was also responsible for a great deal of the preservation work that has taken place in the Lo Manthang (aka Mustang) region of northern Nepal, where I went trekking last year.

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GHF Banteay Chhmar in the News

Beyond Angkor Wat

October 2012


Beyond Cambodia’s star tourist attractions, the country’s less visited temples carry equal majesty and mystery.

View Video.
Banteay Chhmar

GHF Mention in Financial Times

Historic souk burns in battle for Aleppo

September 2012


Fighting for control of Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city, raged on Sunday after a fire in its historic covered market underscored how deepening civil war is tearing apart a country at the heart of the Middle East.

Other Syrian UN world heritage sites damaged during the conflict include the ancient “forgotten villages” in the north of the country and the Crac des Chevaliers crusader castle, according to a report published in May by the Global Heritage Fund, a California-based not-for-profit organisation.

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GHF in the News

Lasting monuments

September 2012


While others may argue issues such as poverty and disease are more deserving of donor funds, many believe architectural heritage has a role in tackling these problems.

The Global Heritage Fund is another such organisation. Based in San Francisco, it focuses on sites in the developing world. As well as working on the sites themselves, it has established the Global Heritage Network, an interactive database, social network and library of heritage preservation literature. The network not only acts as an early warning system for endangered sites but also brings together experts and conservationists, and facilitates partnerships between planners, scientists and communities.

There are many ways to help poor countries,” says Jeff Morgan, who was an information technology sales and marketing executive before he founded the GHF. “But when you invest in heritage, you reap two things: you are saving the most priceless site, but that also [brings visitors], and it is really impressive what tourism does for industrial diversity.”

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GHF Chavín de Huántar in the News

Notes From Earth: Echoes From the Distant Past

September 2012


When priests at the temple complex of Chavín de Huántar in central Peru sounded their conch-shell trumpets 2,500 years ago, tones magnified and echoed by stone surfaces seemed to come from everywhere, yet nowhere. The effect must have seemed otherworldly, but there was nothing mysterious about its production. According to archaeologists at Stanford University, the temple’s builders created galleries, ducts, and ventilation shafts to channel sound. In short, the temple’s designers may have been not only expert architects but also skilled acoustical engineers.

Peru’s Temple of Sound Effects

The most detailed evidence of ancient acoustical design comes from the Stanford team studying Chavín de Huántar, which was constructed between 1300 and 500 B.C. Peruvian archaeologists first suspected the complex had an auditory function in the 1970s, when they found that water rushing through one of its canals mimicked the sound of roaring applause. Then, in 2001, Stanford anthropologist John Rick discovered conch-shell trumpets, called pututus, in one of the galleries. The team set out to determine what role the horns played in ancient rituals and how the temple may have heightened their effects. Archaeoacoustics researcher Miriam Kolar and her collaborators played computer-generated sounds to identify which frequencies the temple most readily transmits. Over years of experiments, they found that certain ducts enhanced the frequencies of the pututus while filtering out others, and that corridors amplified the trumpets’ sound. “It suggests the architectural forms had a special relationship to how sound is transmitted,” Kolar says. The researchers also had volunteers stand in one part of the temple while pututu recordings played in another. In some configurations, the sound seemed to come from all directions.

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Mirador in the News

Travels to the end of the world, according to the Maya

September 2012


An image of El Mirador, the Mayan city nestled in the jungle of Guatemala. photo

The clock is ticking and December 21 approaches. According to the ancient culture of Central America, is about to end a cycle that will start a new era. Do you want to attend the event in the first row? Then get ready to go.

We visit the sites Iximché and the beautiful Parque National Tikal. But above all, we will see the beginning of the new era, the Thirteenth Baq’Tun, the Parque Arqueológico of Yaxhá. Hurry though because the seats are almost all sold out. For the more adventurous, however, we recommend a more difficult hike, but absolutely thrilling. It is to the archaeological site of El Mirador, one of the last cities yet to be discovered and excavated. The site can be reached by traveling for two days, almost everything by foot with the help of donkeys. The path is simple but meanders through the jungle with all the difficulties of the case and you are sleeping in a tent. What can you expect? A unique ceremony for only 50, 60 people, in a magical place, almost Indiana Jones.

Italian text

Viaggio alla fine del mondo (secondo i Maya)

Il tempo stringe e il 21 dicembre si avvicina. Secondo l’antica cultura del Centro America, sta per concludersi un ciclo che darà inizio a una nuova era. Volete assistere all’evento in prima fila? Allora preparatevi a partire

Visiteremo i siti di Iximché e lo splendido Parque National Tikal. Ma, soprattutto, assisteremo all’inizio della nuova era, il Tredicesimo Baq’Tun, al Parque Arqueológico di Yaxhá. Affrettatevi però perché i posti sono quasi tutti esauriti. Per i più temerari invece, consigliamo un’escursione più difficoltosa, ma assolutamente emozionante. Si tratta di raggiungere il sito archeologico di El Mirador, una delle ultime città scoperte e ancora in parte da scavare. Ci si arriva con due giorni di viaggio, quasi tutto a piedi con l’aiuto di asinelli. Il percorso è semplice ma si snoda attraverso la giungla con tutte le difficoltà del caso e si dorme in tenda. Cosa vi aspetta? Una cerimonia unica per sole 50, 60 persone, in un luogo magico, quasi all’Indiana Jones.

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GHF in the News

Syria’s Looted Past: How Ancient Artifacts Are Being Traded for Guns

September 2012


The badly damaged outer gate of Aleppo’s Citadel after government opponents try to blast their way into the ancient fortress. Aleppo, Syria. NELOFER PAZIRA

The ongoing civil war in Syria, a land brimming with history, has led to a dangerous, tragic surge in the looting and smuggling of Syrian antiquities

Abu Khaled knows the worth of things. As a small-time smuggler living along the porous border between Syria and Lebanon, he has dabbled in antiquities as much as the cigarettes, stolen goods and weapons that make up the bulk of his trade. So when a smuggler from Syria brought him a small, alabaster statue of a seated man a few weeks ago, he figured that the carving, most likely looted from one of Syria’s two dozen heritage museums or one of its hundreds of archaeological sites, could be worth a couple thousand dollars in Lebanon’s antiquities black market. So he called his contacts in Beirut. But instead of asking for cash, he asked for something even more valuable: weapons.

Syria’s grim human toll—at least 20,000 dead, some 250,000 registered refugees and an estimated 1.2 million internally displaced, according to the UN— has been echoed by devastating attacks on the country’s archaeological heritage. All six of Syria’s UNESCO world heritage sites have been damaged by rocket, tank and small-arms fire, some “potentially irreversibly,” according to archaeologist Emma Cunliffe, a PhD researcher at the United Kingdom’s Durham University who has just published a report during the course of her Fellowship at Global Heritage Fund, which details the destruction of Syria’s historical sites. “Archaeologically speaking, Syria is a disaster zone,” she says. Theft from some of the country’s poorly guarded regional museums has added to the toll—an 8th century BC Aramaic god from the Hama museum made Interpol’s Most Wanted Works of Art poster in December — as has the wholesale plundering of thousands of half-excavated archaeological sites in Syria. Cunliffe, who hasn’t visited Syria since the start of the uprising, bases her reporting on a network of Syrian volunteers who started documenting the depredations around them on a Facebook page, Syrian Heritage Under Threat. The Syrian government has sharply limited the number of foreign journalists entering the country, so these accounts cannot be independently verified.

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GHF in the News

Pachacamac: Conservation in the City of Oracles

September 2012


The Temple of the Sun at Pachacamac.

Given its enormous size and proximity to Lima, it is difficult to believe that the ancient site of Pachacamac is largely overlooked: Its core area alone is about 2.5 square kilometers in area, and it is considered one of the most important pilgrimage centers in pre-Hispanic Peru. Yet most people have never heard of it, and even though it has been on Peru’s World Heritage Tentative List since 1996, even most people of Lima – with its city center just 25 or so kilometers to the north – have never visited the site.

But as astounding as this may seem, few sites are as awe-inspiring as this one—from its massive, sand covered ruins to its dramatic setting next to the Pacific Ocean.  Constructed and added to by successive cultures over the course of more than 1500 years, the site is comprised of pyramids, palaces, cemeteries, roads and other structures built from mudbrick.  The site has a magical feeling to it as one wanders around, meandering by buildings jutting out of the sand and climbing to the top of enormous temples, walking across a landscape littered with potsherds and bones.  The area is very much a desert, and so the state of preservation is incredible:  it is not uncommon to see bits of textile or woven string and matting sticking out of the ground or emerging from a profile.

The site was rediscovered and investigated in the 19th century by travelers and archaeologists such as Adolph Bandelier, Ernst Middendorf, Ephraim Squier and – most notably – Max Uhle.  Uhle introduced a more methodical (and methodological) approach to investigating the ruins during his work there in 1896-97, and his research forms the foundation for all that has followed.  After completing a general survey of the site and conducting surface collections, Uhle excavated primarily at the Temple of the Sun, the House of the Chosen Women and in the cemetery in front of the Painted Temple (now commonly known as “Uhle’s Cemetery”).

Excavations led by both Peruvians and foreign archaeologists continued over the years, particularly in the 1960s, and more recently two international projects have been conducted at the site.  The first of these, the Ychsma Project, has sought to answer questions related to determining typological characteristics of the site’s ramped pyramids and to understand its Late Intermediate Period (900-1470) and Late Horizon Period (1470-1533).  The other recent international project, the Pachacamac Archaeological Project, aims to better understand the human dimension of the site by investigating who lived there, how and why, with a special focus on the “common people” rather than the elite lords and priests.

To support their conservation efforts, Global Heritage Fund has led three on-site workshops, most recently from April 30 to May 3, 2012, in partnership with the Ministry of Culture and with sponsorship from Patronato Cultural de Peru and Deutsche Bank.  The focus of the workshop concerned aseismic considerations on adobe-built sites and practical measures to take when conserving them to withstand or minimize earthquake damage.

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GHF’s Director of International Development, Stefaan Poortman in the News

Has Machu Picchu, The 'Lost City Of The Incas,' Become A Victim Of Its Own Success?

August 2012


The president of Peru announced plans Wednesday to build an airport near the city of Cusco, base camp for the pre-Columbian ruins of Machu Picchu, in order to boost tourism to the surrounding region.

President Ollanta Humala said the $460 million facility would replace Velazco Astete Airport, which is only capable of handling limited daytime flights and has cost Peru key international airline links, including many with the United States.

“This new airport will not only mean more tourists will be able to come, but it will generate more jobs ... and help surrounding communities,” Humala announced.

Machu Picchu is by far Peru’s most popular tourist attraction and a major foreign exchange earner for the country, but many believe it already receives more visitors than the crumbling structure can handle.

Stefaan Poortman, the director of international development at the Global Heritage Fund, believes Peru would do better to encourage visits to other heritage sites.

“Peru is like the Egypt of Latin America,” he said. “There is a wealth of heritage sites spread out across the country, and Machu Picchu is by no means the centerpiece or the most important. It’s iconic and well-known, but at Global Heritage Fund, we are very interested in how we can diffuse the impact of Machu Picchu to other sites around Peru.”

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GHF in The Wall Street Journal

Saving Syria

August 2012


Many tragedies have followed the start of the Syrian uprising 18 months ago, but one that deserves more attention is the destruction of Syria’s cultural patrimony. Throughout the country, Roman temples, Crusader castles and medieval mosques have been subject to shelling, gunfire and military occupation. What is more, the collapse of authority has led to widespread theft and looting. As Syria descends into bedlam, the international community must work to protect the country’s historical sites, lest we see a repeat of the destruction of Iraq’s landmarks after 2003.

Syria is the cradle of civilization, with a history of human settlement stretching back 5,000 years. Its cultures have left behind archaeological treasures of unmatched richness and beauty. They bear witness to the many peoples who have mixed across these lands through the centuries—Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Umayyads and Ottomans, among others—each contributing to the ethnic, religious and linguistic tableau that is modern Syria.

Even in the best of times, many of these monuments were lightly policed, especially in remote areas. But as war has engulfed the country, security resources normally allocated for protecting monuments have been redeployed to the battlefield. The fighting has drawn few distinctions between civilian and military targets, leaving many sites exposed to damage. There is plenty of blame to go around, as both government and opposition forces bear responsibility for the destruction and the collapse of security. Much of what we know about this comes from Syrians on the ground and their allies online, who post news and videos on websites such as Facebook and YouTube. A leading watchdog group is the Global Heritage Fund, which in May published an extensive report detailing the crisis.

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GHF in the News

Syrian Battle Puts Art Treasures At Risk: Martin Gayford

August 2012


One casualty of the current Syrian conflict is seldom mentioned in the news: the country’s extraordinary archaeological and architectural heritage.

The landscape is covered, in some areas thickly, with late Roman cities, medieval and Byzantine castles, mosques, and early Christian churches.

Destruction List
The mosaics there were even more spectacular than those at Apamea. The list of destruction goes on and on. A detailed report on the damage up to May 2012 by Emma Cunliffe of Durham University is available on the Global Heritage Fund website.

Obviously all of the above, though very sad, matters little in comparison with the tens of thousands of human casualties in the war. Equally, there’s not a great deal that can be done about it.

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GHF Pingyao in the News

Tourism boom threatens China's heritage sites

August 2012


Kaiping, China (CNN)—In a quiet corner of southern China’s Pearl River Delta, hundreds of abandoned watchtowers dot a landscape of water-logged rice paddies, lush bamboo groves and ancient villages.

Bristling with battlements and turrets, the ornate towers were built by families and villages in need of protection during the late 19th and early 20th centuries when much of the country was controlled by warlords and banditry was rife.

Now a UNESCO world heritage site, these days the Kaiping watchtowers, or diaolou as they are known locally, face a threat of a different nature—the incredible boom in Chinese tourism.

Poor, rural areas bypassed by China’s recent economic boom are those most keen to secure world heritage status, says Han Li, who works for the Global Heritage Fund in China.

Local officials often take out huge loans to build infrastructure to prepare their bid, she says, and local people, at least, initially welcome the opportunity to find work outside farming or as alternative to migration.

“Having world heritage status definitely changes your property values, your investment opportunities and it’s a really big life-saver for a lot of these places,” she says.

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GHF Banteay Chhmar in the News

Tourism project puts temple on road to recovery

August 2012


A greeting sign welcomes visitors to the office, restaurant and library for the Banteay Chhmar Community-Based Tourism project. Photograph: Joseph Freeman/Phnom Penh Post

Walking the vine-wreathed paths of Banteay Chhmar, a 12th-century temple near the Thai border that some call the “second Angkor Wat” feels like sneaking into a renowned historical site after the tour guides and the tourists have all gone home.

The pervasive silence can strike a first-time visitor as odd, given that the temple is open to anyone who embarks on the trip. But it is far from abnormal, say members of the Community-Based Tourism project in Banteay Chhmar village, an initiative supported by the group restoring the temple, Global Heritage Fund.

Hampered by its isolation and working on a shoestring budget, the project has made slow, but steady, progress since its inception five years ago. The number of sightseers goes up and down.

“Some days, one person will sit alone in the temple, some days, there is a group, and some days, no one visits the temple,” says the local director, Tath Sophal, while balancing himself against scaffolding on top of a section of ruins.

“The tourists who want to visit here, they always ask when they email, ‘What about the road?’ he said.

That road, a 69-kilometre sun-baked stretch of potholes, is a turbulent, two-hour ride from sleepy Sisophon town in northwestern Banteay Meanchey.

And that’s without inclement weather.

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GHF Mirador in the News - Science

The Taming of the Turkey

August 2012


MiradorGobble, gobble. Turkey bones found beneath the Jaguar Paw Temple in Guatemala (main image) belong not to the native ocellated turkey (lower right) but to the Mexican turkey (upper left).
Credit: (temple) Museum of Peoples and Cultures/Brigham Young U.; (turkey, left) Mongo/Wikipedia; (turkey, right) George Harrison/USFWS

Their bones were buried deep within the Jaguar Paw Temple in the ancient Maya city of El Mirador, Guatemala. Perhaps ritually sacrificed, possibly eaten, seven turkeys met their untimely ends more than 2000 years ago and more than 400 miles from their native range in Central Mexico. Now, in addition to providing clues about ancient Maya culture and trade, their skeletons may help resolve another mystery: When were the turkeys we eat today first domesticated?

Compared to the bald eagle, wrote Benjamin Franklin in 1784, the turkey is “a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America.” By Franklin’s era, archaeologists speculate that Native Americans had been domesticating turkeys for more than 1500 years. One established center of turkey domestication was central Mexico, where the bones of Meleagris gallopavo—ancestors of the turkeys we eat today—have been found from as early as about 800 B.C.E. alongside ancient turkey pens and fossilized poop containing traces of corn, suggesting the birds were kept and fed. Early European explorers took Mexican turkeys back to Europe, starting a worldwide turkey craze. But long before Mexican turkeys became a staple of Christmas feasts, they were being traded with the Maya in Central America. Mexican turkeys were originally thought to have been introduced to the Maya after the Maya “collapse” around 1000 C.E. However, the turkey bones at Jaguar Paw Temple date to roughly 1000 years before that, during the rise of Maya society. How did they get there?

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Ciudad Perdida in National Geographic

Best Trips 2012: North Colombia

July 2012


Photograph by Fausto Giaccone, Anzenberger/Redux

Ciudad Perdida
Just over 35 years ago, Ciudad Perdida, the “lost city,” was—like much of Colombia—undiscovered and off-limits for travel. This spectacular archaeological site in northern Colombia had disappeared into inaccessible wilderness populated by violent militia and drug traffickers. Now the cleared mountaintop terraces (above) shine like a green grassy beacon declaring the country’s rebirth as a travel destination at the crossroads of the Caribbean and South America.

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GHF in the Economist

The heritage debate
Living treasure
UNESCO is better at naming enemies than finding friends

July 2012


IT SOUNDS like the beginning of a bizarre guessing game. As of this month, the following unlikely mixture of people and agencies found themselves tarred with the same brush: Liverpool City Council, the developers and municipal authorities of Panama, the Islamist rebels of West Africa and the quarrelsome bishops of some ancient Christian churches in the Middle East. They all bear a share of responsibility for the fate of places that have recently been deemed by UNESCO to be “World Heritage Sites in danger”.

During its latest annual gathering, which ended on July 6th, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee (a rotating group of 21 member states) also added 26 new places to the list of locations it considers to have “outstanding universal value” to humanity. The total now comes to 962. It then named five places as “World Heritage Sites in danger”—a label that can either imply solidarity with a country, or a rebuke for poor conservation. This year’s additions to the danger list consisted of Liverpool’s old harbour area, which is said to be imperilled, at least aesthetically, by a giant construction project; two early European settlements in Panama which face a similar challenge; and the tombs and shrines of Mali which have been ruthlessly targeted by an army of zealots professing a puritanical form of Islam.

But there are no easy ways to maintain heritage sites in relatively poor countries; it requires delicate balancing acts, much local diplomacy and long-term engagement, according to organisations that work in that field. Even a well-functioning state, be it democratic or authoritarian, will fail to conserve monuments unless local people see an interest in maintaining their heritage and using it rationally, says Vincent Michael, new chairman of the Global Heritage Fund (GHF), based in California. The effort will collapse if cultural heritage is seen either as a pesky impediment to making money, or as something to be exploited for short-term gain. Nor should local economies ever be too reliant on tourism, which can fall as rapidly as it rises.

Among the places where the GHF has applied these ideas—by developing a strategy for conservation and local development—is the Neolithic site of Catalhoyuk in Turkey, which was one of the places added this year to UNESCO’s World-Heritage list. UNESCO also tells member states to provide “management plans” for each World-Heritage Site, but these are often couched in negative terms—laying out how threats can be avoided. In recent statements, UNESCO’s director-general, Irina Bokova of Bulgaria, has cited a more positive link between heritage and economic development: a welcome change in Mr Michael’s view.

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GHF Work in Pingyao Featured in The Atlantic Cities

Can an Ancient Chinese City Pursue Preservation Without Disney-fication?

July 2012


imageDebra Bruno

One of China’s last intact walled cities is undergoing something of an identity crisis. Pingyao, in China’s Shanxi province, has endured for 2,700 years, escaping the destruction of the Cultural Revolution because the city was too poor and too remote to be trashed by the Red Guards.

But the city that escaped the purge under Mao’s regime struggles today against two different and disturbing futures. The first: Pingyao’s aging infrastructure could crumble into the dust of the coal-mining region, beset by pollution, rain, hoards of tourists, and a population trying to carve out living space inside 2.4 square kilometers.

The second scenario is in some ways even more distressing: Pingyao could evolve into a perfect and tidy Disney version of itself, jammed full of souvenir shops selling mass-produced junk next to bars and restaurants, not that much different from the Temple of Heaven pavilion at Epcot. In fact, Pingyao is being compared to Lijiang, a city in Yunnan province that conservation purists say is overly restored, a fake version of an ancient city, a Potemkin village rather than real.

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Banteay Chhmar & John Sanday featured on AlJazeera’s TV Show - “101 East”

The heritage curse

July 2012



In the 38 years since UNESCO launched its World Heritage programme to help preserve cultural and natural treasures, over 900 sites have earned the distinction.

But some conservation experts say that the uncontrolled tourism development that follows World Heritage designation may do more harm than good for the very sites the programme was meant to protect.

In developing countries like Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, sites are left largely to their own devices when it comes to managing the burgeoning number of visitors. Emphasis is placed on increasing tourism to alleviate local poverty.

Read More and view the video.

GHF in the News - World Heritage in the International Business Times

What Does An Obscure Japanese Ghost Town Have In Common With Machu Picchu? They’re Both Considered ‘World Heritage’

June 2012


In 1991, the cheery town of Dubrovnik, Croatia, nearly lost a piece of its heritage. Artillery fire from invading Serbian and Montenegrin forces peppered the magnificent Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque buildings for seven months, when 563 of the 824 buildings in Old Town were hit by projectiles, and nearly a dozen others were destroyed by fire. The “pearl of the Adriatic,” as Lord Byron once called it, lost its luster.

Just 12 years earlier, UNESCO, the United Nations organization responsible for education, science and culture, had inscribed Dubrovnik on its second-ever World Heritage List, covering the city in a thick blanket of protection. So, in the wake of the attacks, UNESCO quickly categorized the city as “World Heritage in Danger.” With UNESCO’s technical and financial assistance, the Croatian government renovated the facades of the Franciscan and Dominican cloisters, rebuilt palaces, and repaired the city’s iconic orange roofs. Only seven years later, the town was restored to its former glory.

The Global Heritage Fund, founded in 2002, sees an unfavorable imbalance in the UNESCO World Heritage List and focuses its efforts exclusively on saving Earth’s most significant and endangered cultural heritage sites in the developing world.

“Developing countries have a challenge,” Morgan said. “Get on the World Heritage List, and you may get national funding and more developers will be interested in the surrounding property—but it doesn’t secure you international funding or the technical support and management training that’s needed to take on a big site.”

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Colombia: Ciudad Perdida

May 2012



Stunning gold artefacts began to appear in local markets. Rumours filtered through to Colombia’s archaeologists that guaqueros – looters responsible for the destruction of many archaeological sites throughout the Sierra Nevada – were finding Pre-Hispanic objects on a site in the upper Buritaca River basin. The Colombian Institute of Anthropology (now the Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History, ICANH) immediately sent archaeologists to investigate.

It was 1976, and this was uncharted territory. The road disappeared and, for three days, the team trekked through dense vegetation up into one of the world’s highest mountain regions, along Colombia’s Caribbean coast. It is a challenging climb. The difficult and broken topography resembles ‘a badly crumpled piece of paper’, says Santiago Giraldo, Director of the Colombia Heritage Program for the Global Heritage Fund. The potentially lethal wildlife includes snakes and a colourful variety of vicious insects.

Then, suddenly, they came upon an extraordinary and most unexpected sight: a great stone staircase meticulously carved from giant boulders.

The steps led them still higher, until finally they reached huge man-made terraces cut into the slopes and lined with stone. But what surprised the team still more was their shape.

Typically, platforms in the Americas are rectangular in form, defining and confining space. The architecture of the Aztec, Inca, and Mayan settlements – as well as that of the earlier great cities like Tiwanaku in Bolivia and Teotihuacan in Mexico – employs straight lines and hard angles to delineate and sub-divide areas.

Here, however, dwellings and their stone foundations are round, set upon oval-shaped terraces in small groups sprawled across vast areas, linked by curvilinear paths that stretch and wind their way through the site.

These circles with their snaking paths suggest an informality of design, encouraging a constant flow of movement between sections along a complex network of paths, staircases, and walkways.
Remarkably, despite suffering the attention of looters, about 85% of the site was still in a fine state of preservation. It was obvious, too, that this was a settlement of some importance. Its name, however, was long gone. So the archaeologists called it Ciudad Perdida, Spanish for ‘Lost City’.

Finding civilisation
Initial investigations suggested that these round and oval structures were built by the Tairona, an indigenous population who occupied the area at the beginning of the 1st millennium AD, and who disappeared around 1600, shortly after the arrival of the Spanish.

We know that when the Spanish explorer Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo arrived at the Bay of Santa Marta on the Caribbean coast in 1498, more than 250 settlements were scattered across about 5,000km² of land. Ciudad Perdida, one of the biggest and most impressive of these, was probably the economic and political capital of Buritaca River basin where it is located. The entire site covers approximately 80ha, and at its peak would have had about 2,500-3,000 inhabitants.

The architecture of Ciudad Perdida follows the landscape. It is difficult to tell precisely where the settlement begins or ends. Wooden houses, which have long since disappeared, would have stood upon the packed-earth platforms lined with stone-masonry retaining walls. An extensive network of flagstone paths connected these dwellings, storerooms, and communal buildings with agricultural terracing, canals, reservoirs, and water drainage systems.

Most of the land had been cultivated in neat, well-kept plots providing a diet that included maize, beans, sweet potato, yams, and avocados. Bees were kept for their honey and for their wax – which was used to make moulds for gold objects.

Aside from cleaning up small sections of damaged walls, the first archaeologists on the scene confined their investigations to mapping and recording the area, excavating some of the looted platforms and dwellings, clearing out the site, and preparing it for visitors.

Pottery and some gold and stone artefacts – missed by the looters – were recovered and are now stored at the National Museum and at the Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History.
Finally, in 2010, the Global Heritage Fund (GHF) set up the Colombia Heritage Program – a long term project which includes conservation of the site as well as research and excavation – under the direction of Santiago Giraldo, and in conjunction with the Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History. Giraldo began by examining the terraces.

Unique design
The unusual round and oval structures were formed in one of two ways. Simple isolated terraces were created by cutting a flat cross-section into the slope. The displaced soil and rubble was then used to build up the slope from below, and held in place by several courses of roughly dressed stone. The fill was packed down by trampling, and the flattened surface covered with cobblestones. A course of long, flat stones – between 1m and 2m in length – was then added to the top of the retaining wall so that another cut could be made into the slope above, thereby creating ‘steps’ of terraces.

The exposed flat surfaces were covered with stone to ensure rainwater could be run off without causing erosion, and to provide a stable foundation for the wooden structures built on top. As the population increased, more terraces were added, abutting and intersecting one another, extending up the hillside.

The second, more complex, method was used mainly for the narrower, uppermost areas of the city where the terrain is made up of rocky outcrops. These required retaining walls on both sides, with greater amounts of soil and rubble infill. Large stone slabs were placed in key positions around the outer edges for extra reinforcement. Once the first terrace was finished, it was possible to build subsequent ones, each with their wall resting on the one below.

Bill Draper on New Global Venture

May 2012



‘The Start Up Game’ author Bill Draper weighs in on his latest endeavor.

Click here to see the interview

Asia’s Vanishing Heritage

May 2012


Throughout Asia, historical marvels are being imperiled by threats both natural—floods, earthquakes—and human, as the populations of developing countries expand at an exponential rate. Now the Global Heritage Fund has highlighted 10 archeological sites at imminent risk of disappearing. While the following sites are at serious risk, they possess considerable economic potential; if managed properly, they could provide much-needed jobs to local communities as tourist destinations.

Read more.

Saving Asia's Ancient Heritage Sites

May 2012


GHF Executive Director Jeff Morgan was interviewed by CNN about the state of global heritage sites, what we can do to protect them, and their potential to drive sustainable local economic growth.

View the interview here.

Asia's architectural treasures 'vanishing'

May 2012


NEW YORK — Asia’s architectural treasures, from a Buddhist monastery in Afghanistan to an ancient city in China, are in danger of vanishing under a tide of economic expansion, war and tourism, according to experts.

The Global Heritage Fund named 10 sites facing “irreparable loss and destruction.”

“These 10 sites represent merely a fragment of the endangered treasures across Asia and the rest of the developing world,” Jeff Morgan, executive director of the fund, said, presenting the report, “Asia’s Heritage in Peril: Saving Our Vanishing Heritage.”

The architectural gems from Asia’s ancient and sophisticated cultures are struggling in the face of economic expansion, sudden floods of tourists, poor technical resources, and areas blighted by looting and conflict—in other words, the pressures of rapidly modernizing Asia.

“We’re looking at these millennial civilizations leapfrogging into the 21st century at a kind of pace that is unheard of, unprecedented,” said Vishakha N. Desai, president of the Asia Society, which hosted a conference based on the report.

Kuanghan Li, head of Global Heritage Fund’s China program, underlined the urgency in a presentation on work to preserve Pingyao, one of China’s last surviving walled cities. The stunning fortifications are impressively maintained and floodlit.

But “up to 20 years ago, there were hundreds of similar walled cities left in China,” she said. “They have been demolished.”

Experts said that global architectural preservation efforts are poorly coordinated and targeted, with the UN cultural body UNESCO focusing almost entirely on sites in already wealthy European countries, rather than in places like Latin America or Asia.

More than 80 percent of UNESCO World Heritage sites are located in the 10 richest states, the Global Heritage Fund said.

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Global Heritage Fund in the News

Global Heritage Fund Announces 10 Most Endangered Sites in Asia

May 2012


Wat Chaiwattanaram ruins, Ayutthaya, Thailand

Today, the Global Heritage Fund released its list of the ten most endangered archaeological and heritage sites in Asia—essentially a docket of fascinating historical attractions that are threatened by man-made hazards: development pressures, unsustainable tourism, insufficient management, looting, and war and conflict.

Read More.

Digging Deeper

April 2012


Investing in the heritage of developing countries is one of the most
sustainable ways of lifting people out of poverty.

Fifteen kilometers north-east of the town of Sanliurfa in south-eastern Turkey, there used to stand a range of what the University of Chicago archaeologist Peter Benedict once described as “round-topped knolls of red earth”.

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Current World Archaeology working with Global Heritage Fund

Celebrating World Heritage

April 2012


This year marks the 40th birthday of UNESCO’s World Heritage Convention, which to-date protects almost 1,000 sites of outstanding cultural and natural importance. Among these are some of the world’s most spectacular archaeological sites, from Angkor Wat and Hadrian’s Wall to the Pyramids at Giza and the ruins of Pompeii.

We have featured many of these stunning monuments in the pages of Current World Archaeology ; scroll down or click on the map (below right) to read more about some of our favorites.

Celebrations were launched at UNESCO’s headquarters in Paris in January and a range of events to mark the anniversary are scheduled throughout 2012, including conferences in Norway and China, a youth forum in Spain, and a commemorative ceremony in Germany.

Just last year, Global Heritage Fund launched the Global Heritage Network (GHN), an online early warning system that allows experts, archaeologists and travellers to track and monitor the state of the world’s most endangered sites using satellite technology. Click here to find out more.

The history of the Convention
The need to have an international agreement on how to protect heritage sites sprang from global concern over the construction of the Aswan High Dam in Egypt in 1959, which threatened to flood the world-famous temples at Abu Simbel. UNESCO launched an emergency campaign funded by donations from 50 countries, highlighting our shared responsibility to preserve historic monuments.
The success of this campaign prompted others at Venice, at the 4,500-year-old settlement at Mohenjo-daro in Pakistan, and at Indonesia’s Borobodur Temple. A paper on how to safeguard cultural sites was subsequently drafted, and by 1972 the text had been agreed by all parties concerned. The Convention Concerning the Protection of Cultural and Natural Heritage was formally adopted at the General Conference of UNESCO on 16 November 1972.

World Heritage Sites – the list
Six years after the Convention was signed, member states drew up a preliminary list of sites of universal cultural and natural value. The initial list numbered just a dozen sites – including the 13th-century rock cut churches at Lalibela in Ethiopia and the Viking settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows in Canada – but it has been added to every June at the annual meeting of the World Heritage Committee.

Some 936 sites in 153 countries currently fall under its protection, and these will doubtlessly be joined by more this summer.

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Seeking to Preserve the Past, but Stumbling on the Present

March 2012


MOSUL, Iraq — On land where Assyrian kings once reigned, an Iraqi farmer named Araf Khalaf surveyed the scrap of earth that has nurtured three generations of his family. It is little more than a mud hut and a scraggly vegetable patch, yet his land has become a battleground, one pitting efforts to preserve Iraq’s ancient treasures against the nation’s modern-day poor.

Many of the mud-walled homes sit in the shadow of the reconstructed Mashki Gate, a soaring entryway to Nineveh, described in the biblical Book of Jonah as “an exceedingly great city.” It was attacked and mostly destroyed in 612 B.C. and unearthed in the 19th century by British archaeologists who hauled away inscribed tablets, sculptures and stunning reliefs. Today, the Global Heritage Fund says looting and creeping development put the sprawling site in danger of being “buried forever.”

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Celebrating Year of the Maya with tour of Latin America's ruins

January 2012


By Laura Allsop, CNN

The Global Heritage Fund has named 2012 “The Year of the Maya,”—the Maya calendar points to December 2012 as the dawn of a new age. La Danta pyramid, at El Mirador in Guatemala, is one of the sites which the Global Heritage Fund is fighting to protect.

London (CNN)—The year 2012 is a significant one in the Maya calendar.

The ancient long count calendar of the Maya, a Mesoamerican civilization that flourished across Mexico and Central America from 2000 BC to the time of the Spanish Conquistadores, states that on the 12th December, 2012, the sun will be aligned with the center of the Milky Way for the first time in approximately 26,000 years.

And 21 December, 2012, is said to mark the end of the 13th Maya Calendar, a 144,000-day cycle or “b’ak’tun” since the mythical Maya day of creation 5,200 years ago.

Though popularly interpreted as signifying the “end of the world as we know it,” scholars stress that the end of the “b’ak’tun” does not mean apocalypse.

While few Maya people still follow the long count calendar, the Global Heritage Fund is celebrating the event by naming 2012 “The Year of the Maya,” with members of the Fund greeting the winter solstice on top of La Danta pyramid at the El Mirador site in Guatemala.

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GHF Banteay Chhmar: Cambodia's 'Second Angkor' Temple Enshrouded in Mystery

January 2012


Associated Press recently featured an article on Banteay Chhmar by Bangkok Bureau Chief Denis Gray, and the piece was picked up by many networks and print news outlets including Fox News, ABC News, CBS News, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.

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Cambodia's 'Second Angkor' Temple Enshrouded in Mystery

January 2012


Dec. 12, 2011: Restoration work continues around one of 34 towers at the Buddhist monastery of Banteay Chhmar in northwestern Cambodia. AP

It’s still entwined in mystery and jungle vines, but one of Cambodia’s grandest monuments is slowly awakening after eight centuries of isolated slumber, having attracted a crack archaeological team and a trickle of tourists.

“It takes awhile to unfold this temple — and everywhere there are enticements,” says John Sanday, the team leader, as he navigates through tangled undergrowth, past dramatic towers and bas-reliefs and into dark chambers of the haunting monastic complex of Banteay Chhmar.

Read more.


Another Great Cambodian Temple Stirs To Life

The ancient temple has awoken from an isolated slumber, having attracted a crack archaeological team and a trickle of tourists. (AP Photo/Denis Gray)

BANTEAY CHHMAR, Cambodia—It’s still entwined in mystery and jungle vines, but one of Cambodia’s grandest monuments is slowly awakening after eight centuries of isolated slumber, having attracted a crack archaeological team and a trickle of tourists.

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Cambodia’s haunting monastic temple stirs to life

After eight centuries in a slumber, one of Cambodia’s grandest monuments slowly awakens.

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Cambodia’s ‘second Angkor’ stirs to life

Restoration work continues around one of 34 towers at the Buddhist monastery of Banteay Chhmar in northwestern Cambodia. Pic: AP.

IT’S still entwined in mystery and jungle vines, but one of Cambodia’s grandest monuments is slowly awakening after eight centuries of isolated slumber, having attracted a crack archaeological team and a trickle of tourists.

Read more.


Cambodia’s “second Angkor” stirs to life

BANTEAY CHHMAR, Cambodia (AP) — It’s still entwined in mystery and jungle vines, but one of Cambodia’s grandest monuments is slowly awakening after eight centuries of isolated slumber, having attracted a crack archaeological team and a trickle of tourists.

Read more.


Great Cambodian temple stirs to life

BANTEAY CHHMAR, Cambodia (AP) — It’s still entwined in mystery and jungle vines, but one of Cambodia’s grandest monuments is slowly awakening after eight centuries of isolated slumber, having attracted a crack archaeological team and a trickle of tourists.

Read more.

The world’s oldest temple and the dawn of civilization. 


December 2011


Formal religion is supposed to have appeared only after agriculture. The findings at Göbekli Tepe suggest that we have the story backward—that it was actually the need to build a sacred site that first obliged the hunter-gatherers to organize themselves as a workforce, to secure a stable food supply, and eventually to invent agriculture.

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Colombia's Lost City may be next Machu Picchu

December 2011


Indiana Jones was never this wet.

River water sloshes in my shoes, sweat soaks my shirt, and rain pours from my cap into my eyes. My backpack clings to me like a hot, soggy slug as I struggle up a steep trail in the jungles of northern Colombia. I’m on day three of a six-day trek to Ciudad Perdida, the “Lost City,” a place shrouded in mystery as thick as the mist covering the mountaintops above me.

Despite the hardship, the 25 miles of trail is dotted with dozens of backpackers as Ciudad Perdida is fast becoming the next Machu Picchu, the go-to destination for adventure travelers in South America.

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GHF Marcahuamachuco: Archeological star emerges

November 2011


Marcahuamachuco was profiled by global news agency AFP in a video documentary and accompanying written report, both of which illustrated the site’s significance and conservation goals. The video features an interview with John Hurd, GHF’s International Conservation Director, who joined the reporters on a recent trip to the site and suggests that “it could break the dependence of the tourism industry on Machu Picchu.”


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Heritage: Of monumental import

November 2011


I recently attended “The Forum on Cultural Heritage in a Developing World,” a Global Heritage Fund meet. It became clear throughout the day that some of the world’s big development issues can be dealt with through heritage – the Fund estimates that the 500 major heritage sites in the world’s poorest countries have the potential to generate over $100 billion a year by 2025.

Cultural tourism is vital for ancient monuments’ sustainable maintenance – but it must be well regulated or else the very spirit of the place and its authenticity will be destroyed. The Forum was held in London’s Spencer House, an 18th century townhouse-cum-private palace that had lost its lustre until an authentic restoration by Lord Rothschild who purchased the house in 1985.

As Loyd Grossman (Chair, Heritage Alliance) explained in his keynote address, despite heritage making places worth living in, it rarely develops quick wins and there always seems to be more pressing demands on the public purse. This is where the Global Heritage Fund comes in. I asked its executive director, Jeff Morgan to give some examples of his organisation’s work. – Peter Myers

A new paradigm for heritage-based development
By Jeff Morgan, Executive Director, Global Heritage Fund

Three years ago, I met a man named Tath Sophal.

I was in the remote jungle of northern Cambodia, in one of the country’s poorest regions, at a ruined Khmer temple complex called Banteay Chhmar. My colleagues and I found Sophal sitting alone in the empty office of a French organisation that had withdrawn from the site a month earlier. All the lights were off, he could barely speak English, but he managed to explain his hopes and ideas for the site. We decided Banteay Chhmar – and Sophal himself – was worth the investment.

Fast forward to today and Sophal is coordinator of Community Based Tourism (CBT) at Banteay Chhmar, one of Southeast Asia’s most spectacular architectural masterpieces. CBT has created new jobs and business opportunities, promoted tourism and cultural heritage preservation at the site, and drastically improved living conditions and the lives of local people. Sophal is a local leader whose story symbolises the successful bridging of past and present to promote a better future. Likewise, Banteay Chhmar is a shining example of how conserving a cultural heritage site can stimulate local economic growth and alleviate poverty.

Halfway around the world, the jungles of Guatemala introduced me to Arnoldo Juarez Pinelo. He grew up in a remote village bordering Mirador, the cradle of Mayan civilisation. Uneducated and struggling to feed his family, Arnoldo subsisted on looting the nearby ruins. Today his daily life has changed entirely thanks to the conservation efforts at Mirador; he now defends the very assets he once plundered. For the past five years, he has worked as a park guard, which provides steady income and access to health care and education opportunities for him and his family. His oldest son completed high school and is now studying law.

These kinds of opportunities exist at hundreds of sites across the developing world. Restoring and conserving cultural heritage sites creates jobs that are safe, sustainable, legal and local, as opposed to the short-lived, dangerous and sometimes illegal work that takes mothers and fathers far from their homes. The restoration of heritage sites can transform people, countries and economies. But some of civilisation’s most important sites still remain endangered. No one will see these sites – let alone their potential economic benefits – if we don’t save them.

read more.

GHN in the News

Spy Satellites, Google Earth Now Guarding World’s Great Ancient Sites

September 2011


Conservationists are using spy satellites, cutting-edge computer technology, and an expert human network to build an “early warning system” for some of the planet’s greatest—and most threatened—archaeological sites.

“What we’re trying to do is really bring the world’s archaeologists, conservators, historians, and other experts together and help them organize and help manage these sites of interest. And we provide satellite mapping, scientific dossiers, information on legal status, all the relevant data about these sites so that people can make informed decisions,” explained Jeff Morgan, executive director of the Global Heritage Fund.

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GHF Mirador in the News

Mighty Maya Cities Succumbed to Environmental Crisis

September 2011


Julio Godoy interviews the director of the Mirador Basin archeological research project in Guatemala, RICHARD HANSEN*

PARIS, Sept 7, 2011 (Tierramérica) - The latest archeological findings in the Mirador Basin of Guatemala lend further credence to the theory that the Maya civilisation that once flourished there was brought down by environmental causes such as deforestation.

A major exhibition at the Musée du Quai Branly in París until Oct. 2, “Maya: From Dawn to Dusk”, features over 150 pieces of art and ceramics from El Mirador, in northern Guatemala, and illustrates the scientific and artistic sophistication of this ancient Mesoamerican civilisation.

The artifacts - cups, sculptures, portions of stele (carved stone slabs) and ceramic reliefs – were recently uncovered at the archeological site in the northern department of Petén, near the Mexican border.

They date from the Preclassic and Classic periods of Maya civilisation, approximately 1000 B.C. to A.D. 900.

The Maya civilisation developed over the course of 3,000 years, from the establishment of the first villages, over a vast geographical area, in what is now southeastern Mexico (the states of Yucatán, Campeche and Quintana Roo and parts of Tabasco and Chiapas), Guatemala, Belize, and western Honduras and El Salvador.

The Maya civilisation never actually disappeared: there are more than four million people who continue to speak many Mayan languages throughout Mesoamerica today.

The Mirador Basin was a sophisticated urban complex encompassing numerous large cities, including El Mirador, Nakbé, El Tintal, Wakná and the recently discovered Xulnal, linked by causeways up to 50 meters wide and several tens of kilometers long.

The site includes structures up to 70 meters in height with volumes of more than two million cubic meters, larger than the Egyptian pyramids.

While they demonstrate the high degree of scientific and artistic development of the Mayas, the ceramics and especially the architecture suggest that their collapse was caused by the environmental degradation of the region, says U.S. archeologist Richard Hansen, the director of the Mirador Basin research project and scientific adviser for the Paris exhibition.

Q: What caused the collapse of the Maya civilisation?
A: When we talk about the collapse of a civilisation, what we mean is the disappearance, the complete abandonment of a region. At the end of World War II (1939-1945), the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but in less than three years, both cities had been repopulated.

In the case of the Mayas, that didn’t happen. Why did they abandon such vibrant, apparently healthy and successful cities like those in the Mirador Basin? Generally, when we talk about the collapse of civilisations, the cause is always environmental.

That was the case of Babylonia. To irrigate their fields, the peoples of Mesopotamia used water from the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. But intensive agriculture left the fields barren. Babylonia remains abandoned even today. It’s not because no one wants to live there, it’s because you can’t live there.

Something similar happened in Petén. The Mayas covered practically all of the walls and floors of their buildings and the surfaces of their monuments with stucco.

Our analysis of the walls in El Mirador indicates that, initially, the layers of stucco weren’t very thick, about two centimeters. But as time went on, the Mayas increased the thickness up to 20, 30 centimeters. To prepare that amount of stucco they had to burn a lot of green wood. To cover just one pyramid with stucco, they would have needed to cut down every tree in an area of 6.5 square kilometers.

The resulting deforestation, also aggravated by the agricultural needs of feeding a population of hundreds of thousands of people, led to the erosion and depletion of the soil, which at some point forced the Mayas to abandon their cities and emigrate.

Q: Why did they use such excessive amounts of stucco?
A: The only plausible explanation is, because they could. It’s the same explanation as for the behavior of rich people today who think they need a gold urinal in their bathrooms. Why do some people drive heavy duty vehicles in downtown Los Angeles? Because they can. But the example of the Mayas should lead us to think about the consequences of this excessive consumption.

Q: The pieces on display here demonstrate the level of development of Maya art. How old are the artifacts exhibited and the cities they came from?
A: El Mirador was abandoned around A.D. 150 and repopulated about 500 years later. The architecture from that second period consists of corbeled-vault stone buildings, sculptures and reliefs, and polychrome ceramics and pottery, similar to the illustrations in the four Maya codices.

The ceramic pieces include cups and plates for daily use, as well as ritual utensils. We believe all this pottery was produced in the city of Nakbé in the Mirador Basin.

Q: What are the mathematical foundations of the architecture at El Mirador?
A: We have discovered that the Maya knew about and regularly used proportions and correlations to construct their buildings. At El Mirador we excavated the most extensive urban complexes in the Americas of the time. In the Late Preclassic period, between A.D. 350 and A.D. 250, the Maya constructed buildings more than 70 meters high and built cities for hundreds of thousands of people, connected by many kilometers of roads.

Q: What does the Mirador Basin represent in terms of the interpretation of Maya civilisation?
A: Until recently, the Maya were viewed as a people of hunters and gatherers. But the Mirador Basin demonstrates a very complex civilisation, which developed a written language, a number system and extremely sophisticated art and architecture.

Temple works have become a labour of love

July 2011



Photo by: Rann Reuy Restoration work is ongoing at the 800-year-old Banteay Chhmar temple, in Banteay Meanchey province.

PRASAT Banteay Chhmar, the biggest temple in northwestern Cambodia, is three years into a long-overdue restoration.

Nhok Lo, chief of the restoration team based at the temple, says the project began in 2008, focusing on repairs to the eastern gallary and the nearly-collapsed 18th tower.

The poor condition of the structure means it needs a lot more more work just to make it safe, Nhok Lo says, adding:  “The work here is quite difficult because this temple is very much ruined.”

The damage to the temple, built in the late 12th and early 13th centuries during the reign of King Jayavarman VII and believed to be dedicated to his son, stems from the ravages of nature as well as human activities, he says.

Nhok Lo, who has 15 years’ experience in this field, was hired by the Global Heritage Fund to move from Siem Reap and begin the restoration project.

Under an agreement between the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts and the Global Heritage Fund, the work is due to be completed by next year.

There are two work sites, on the eastern gallery and at the 18th tower, one of most damaged of the temple’s 56 towers. Nhok Lo’s main task is to unearth missing stones or make new stones to replace broken ones.

“Only about 20 per cent of the work has been completed, because we’ve only just started. But I enjoy temple restoration work,” he says.

Nhok Lo says there is much more work to do because it took time to train the labourers recruited from a nearby village to recognise the correct kinds of stones to put in place, and to handle them with care to avoid more being broken.

“It’s very easy to destroy things; we just have to break them, and they’re ruined forever.”

About 40 labourers are working at both restoration sites. They earn between 330,000 and 340,000 riels a month.

The main body of the temple measures 200 metres by 250 metres, but the entire site is four kilometres around.

“The temple will not continue to deteriorate if they pay attention to conserving it,” Nhok Lo says.

Nhok Lo never obtained a university degree before working on restoration sites but, through practical experience and the advice of experienced teachers at previous construction sites,  he quickly learned the techniques required.

Banteay Chhar temple is in the Banteay Chhar commune in the Thma Puok district of Banteay Meanchey province. The temple site lies at the end of a very bumpy 63-kilometre road, so not many tourists have seen it.

Mao Sy, secretary of the Banteay Chhar CBT committee, which covers the temple, estimates that about 50 foreign tourists visit the temple every month.

He says the main obstacle is the poor condition of the road from Sisophon to the temple, because it’s very bumpy in the dry season because of big potholes and very slippery in the rainy season as result of mud.

Nhok Lo says MCFA officials are preparing documents to have the temple placed on the World Heritage list, which will ensure that the temple is properly cared for.

“Once the temple is listed with World Heritage, many construction works will be carried out here,” he says.

Cambodia's Ancient Wonders Suffer Modern Ills

July 2011



SIEM REAP, Cambodia (AP) — The blistering heat at Cambodia’s Angkor temples eases, and the sun’s last soft shimmer will soon brush some of the most wondrous monuments ever created by man. A moment for peaceful reverence? Hardly.

A traffic jam of up to 3,000 tourists surges up a steep hillside, trampling over vulnerable stonework and quaffing beer at a sacred hilltop that provides spectacular sunset views of the massive beehive-like towers rising from the main temple in this ancient city: Angkor Wat.

Below, guides describe its wonders through blaring loudspeakers in a host of tongues as buses circle what is said to be the world’s largest religious edifice, one of hundreds erected by Angkor’s kings between the 9th and 14th centuries.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Associated Press reporter Denis Gray has covered Southeast Asia for more than 30 years and first visited Angkor in 1980.

“Nobody should be allowed to walk on 1,000-year-old stones,” says Jeff Morgan, executive director of the U.S.-based Global Heritage Fund.

He says limits on tourists at the temples are decades overdue.

The influx hastens the deterioration of edifices already buffeted by invasive tropical vegetation and monsoon rains. The relentless tread of feet and the fumes from heavy traffic wear away the soft sandstone. Oily fingers harm the magnificent bas reliefs. Noisy crowds rob visitors of near-mystical moments of quiet contemplation or the chance to imagine they are jungle explorers discovering a lost city.

Too many tourists are not Angkor’s only woe.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site and its gateway town of Siem Reap are also beset by crass development, alleged corruption and endlessly delayed plans on how best to preserve the temples.

Once abandoned and overgrown by the jungle, and isolated by wars, these stone buildings have emerged as one of Asia’s top tourist draws and a vital money spinner for one of the world’s poorest nations. Cambodian Tourism Minister Thong Khon says some 6 million visitors per year are projected by 2020.

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GHF Mirador Featured at the Maya Exhibit at Quai Branly Museum in Paris

Maya, destruction of a civilization

June 2011



Maya, destruction of a civilization

RD Hansen/Fares

Gigantic pyramids lost in the rainforest; temples forgotten and overgrown with vegetation; imposing limestone blocks thrown up by roots of trees. Idealized images of cities taken over by the majestic jungle and wilderness have made the Maya one of the most fascinating archaeological riddles. Why and how this civilization collapsed will be at the heart of an international symposium held at Quai Branly Museum July 1-2 in the wake of the new exhibition “Maya: from Dawn to Dusk.”

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Commerce of black gold and archaeological findings in the Land of Maya

Under the photo mosaic on the beautiful poster that announces “Maya: from Dawn to Dusk,” an exhibition that opens Tuesday, June 21 at Quai Branly Museum in Paris, reads in fine letters: “With the sponsorship of Perenco.” A leading oil producer in Guatemala, Perenco is located in the heart of Laguna del Tigre national park, a protected area in the department of Petén. In recent years, the French-British group claims that their actions “extend the field of culture” and evoke “active” support of archaeological excavations in Guatemala.
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The Greeks of the New World

At Quai Branly, the exhibition “Maya: from Dawn to Dusk” highlights the ruins and collections of Guatemala.

City-states founded in the heart of wooded darkness, tall pyramids, temples springing to sometimes more than 70 meters (as at Tikal) above the trees! How did the Mayans construct this “New York” of ancient tropics, built with an abundance of sculptures, long-nosed gods bristling the slopes of the pyramids, carved reliefs sumptuously colonizing the stelae, altars, lintels, as well as graves beneath which slept sometimes, as in Palenque, Mexico, the bodies of kings with death masks of jade?

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Guatemala displays its most beautiful Maya pieces at Quai Branly Museum in Paris

Guatemala is displaying some of its finest Mayan pieces at Quai Branly Museum in Paris: a vase of jade mosaic, a zoomorphic urn, sacrificial knives, a shell representation of the god of death—all give life to this fascinating and complex civilization. Titled “Maya: from Dawn to Dusk,” the exhibition, which runs until October 2, features 160 objects (decorative pieces, funerary elements, architectural relics, ornaments) lent mainly by the National Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology in Guatemala.

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Treasures and Mysteries of the Mayan Pyramids

Guatemala lends some of its best pieces to Quai Branly for an evocation of this four-thousand-year-old Mesoamerican civilization.
They worshiped the jaguar, the quetzal, rain and death. They covered their temples with hieroglyphics and codices. The Mayan civilization was at least four thousand years old.

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GHF Banteay Chhmar in the News

Cambodia off the beaten track

June 2011


Mention you are going to Cambodia and chances are, you will end up comparing notes on the glorious temples of Angkor, among the most awe-inspiring, mind-blowing monuments ever conceived by the human mind. It is hardly surprising that so many travellers from around the globe dream of gazing upon the towers of Angkor Wat, walking through the root-strangled gateways of Angkor Thom and staring back at the enigmatic smiling faces that have made the Bayon famous.

Until just a few years ago, the grasslands and forests north of Angkor, up towards Thailand and Laos, were hard to get to in the dry season and virtually inaccessible in the wet. But thanks to a network of new roads—paved in part because of the ongoing military confrontation with Thailand—the superb temples of Banteay Chhmar, the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Anlong Veng, the spectacular cliff-top temple of Prasat Preah Vihear and some remote wildlife sanctuaries can now be reached with relative ease and in reasonable comfort. Before heading to potential hotspots such as Prasat Preah Vihear, however, check with local news sources to make sure the frontier is quiet.

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GHF Marcahuamachuco gets a major facelift.

Great Ancient Monumental Center in Peru Lies Forgotten, But Not for Long

June 2011


By Dan McLerran

Cover Photo, Top: Marcahuamachuco: Remains of a castillo. Courtesy David Almeida, Wikimedia Commons.

The ruins of this mysterious ancient monumental center bespeak a majesty long forgotten through centuries of abandonment and decay. Built over 1,600 years ago atop a highland mesa at 3,200 meters (10,000 feet), it commands a sweeping view of the three Northern Peruvian mountain valleys below it.  Archaeologists call it the “Machu Picchu of the North”, and rightly so. Covering more than 3 kilometers of land, it is known for its impressively massive castillos and circular double-walled structures and enclosures. But over the years, its impressive remains have fallen prey to the elements, both natural and human-derived, such as weathering, plant growth, livestock grazing, and lack of conservation. Now, it appears its long decline ends and a new lease on life begins.

Through a cooperative effort between the Government of Peru, the Unidad Executivo de Marcahuamachuco (UEM, a Peruvian regional development organization), and the Global Heritage Fund (GHF) based in Palo Alto, California, the ancient site of Marcahuamachuco will receive long-in-coming planning, funds, technical resources, and not-a-little local community elbow grease to conserve and restore it to at least a semblance of its former glory. The project is expected to set the stage for a local economic renaissance for the indigenous population.  Says Jeff Morgan, Executive Director of GHF,  “After intensive investigations, we are pleased to announce Marcahuamachuco as our newest GHF Project. It is one of Peru’s most important archaeological treasures, and like so many of the country’s top heritage sites, it has suffered in the shadow of Machu Picchu for too long.”  The GHF reports that “with excellent potential to be one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the northern highlands of Peru, Marcahuamachuco will provide a major focus for economic development in an area with few opportunities for local communities.”

The GHF, in concert with its Peruvian partners, will apply a unique conservation and development strategy that has worked very successfully on scores of similar situations throughout the world. Called Preservation by Design, the approach employs a methodology of community-based planning, science, development and organizational partnerships to achieve long-term preservation and sustainability. It is hoped that, just as it has done with many other sites and associated communities in other parts of the world, it will capitalize on the cultural heritage of the area to not only renew and resurrect a valuable archaeological treasure, but also reinvigorate the local economy and bring hope and prosperity to an otherwise depressed community.  “It is a race against time, the elements and other forces of slow destruction,” says one observer, “but it is done very systematically, in a way that will ensure lasting success and a better future for those who are the closest stakeholders - the people who live there.”

Marcahuamachuco: Double walls of a circular gallery. Courtesy David Almeida, Wikimedia Commons

Archaeological investigations of the site began around 1900 by Max Uhle of the University of California, Berkeley, when he photographed the site and corrected older maps made of the site by previous explorers. Theodore McCown of the University of California continued investigations from 1941 to 1942, producing more detailed maps and developing a chronology for cultural development at the site.  A student of McCown, John Thatcher, later returned to the site during 1968 - 1969 and 1973 - 1974 to establish cultural phases and chronologies based on ceramic studies. Since 1981, the Huamachuco Archaeological Project, a Canadian project, has been conducting studies of the area.

Built around 400 A.D. and lasting until 800 A.D., Marcahuamachuco was the center of a Pre-Incan civilization and thought to have been ancient Peru’s most important economic, political, spiritual, and military center during that time period. Some of the site’s functions still remain a mystery, but scholars suggest that it was a religious oracle for the population, later used as a sacred burial ground. The site consists of several major compounds surrounded by curved stone walls, in some places as much as 12 meters high, with interior plazas, rooms and galleries that are interpreted by archaeologists to have served ceremonial and administrative functions.

Marcahuamachuco is GHF’s second project in Peru, joining Chavín de Huántar, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site high in the Andes mountains. The successful work done at Chavín de Huántar will, in part, serve as a model for the work being done at Marcahuamachuco.

GHF Göbekli Tepe in the News

The Birth of Religion

June 2011


By Charles C. Mann
Photograph by Vincent J. Musi

Every now and then the dawn of civilization is reenacted on a remote hilltop in southern Turkey.

The reenactors are busloads of tourists—usually Turkish, sometimes European. The buses (white, air-conditioned, equipped with televisions) blunder over the winding, indifferently paved road to the ridge and dock like dreadnoughts before a stone portal. Visitors flood out, fumbling with water bottles and MP3 players. Guides call out instructions and explanations. Paying no attention, the visitors straggle up the hill. When they reach the top, their mouths flop open with amazement, making a line of perfect cartoon O’s.

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GHF in the Independent

From lost city of the Incas to tourist trap in 100 years

May 2011


Simeon Tegel reports

Machu Picchu was closed for three months last year because of flooding and landslides caused by deforestation. AFP/GETTY

As Hiram Bingham hacked his way through remote Andean cloudforests in search of a lost Inca citadel in 1911, little could the American adventurer have known of the tourism juggernaut that his archaeological expedition would unleash – or how it might threaten his breathtaking find.

Now, Peru is gearing up to mark the centenary of Bingham’s rediscovery of Machu Picchu with a series of glitzy events on 6 and 7 July. Sponsored by Coca Cola, the festivities will include international broadcasts of a son-et-lumière show and a concert expected to feature the Spanish tenor José Carreras.

But many in the archaeological community are deeply worried about the pressures on Machu Picchu from the 2,000 visitors it receives every day and the rapid growth of over-priced hotels, tacky souvenir shops, fast-food restaurants and other unregulated infrastructure around the citadel and along the Sacred Valley that links it to Cusco, the former Inca capital.

“In 10 years’ time, the valley will be like a giant amusement park, like Disneyland,” warns Jose Canziani, an expert in the strategic development of archaeological sites and professor at Lima’s Catholic University.

The World Heritage Committee of Unesco, the United Nations cultural organisation, agrees. In 2008, it voiced its “grave concern” regarding the mismanagement of Machu Picchu, and in 2009 expressed its frustration at Peru’s refusal to allow the ruins to be placed on a list of endangered sites. The panel highlighted problems from the wearing away of the original stone paving to the increased risks of landslides caused by deforestation as a result of the chaotic construction boom.

The committee is due to report next month on Peru’s progress. Anything less than a ringing endorsement could prove highly embarrassing for President Alan Garcia’s administration.

The Peruvian authorities have made some headway. The government banned the helicopter overflights enjoyed by some of Machu Picchu’s more affluent visitors. Yet problems persist. In January last year, landslides in Aguascalientes, the tourist trap at the base of the mountain on which Machu Picchu sits, killed five people and left several thousand sightseers stranded for days. Machu Picchu remained closed for three months. And there has been no response to the erosion of the original stone paving. Wooden walkways or a requirement for visitors to wear rubber-soled shoes are two obvious solutions, says Jeff Morgan, executive director of the Global Heritage Fund, a San Francisco-based group working to protect archaeological remains in the developing world, but there has been no word from the Machu Picchu research team run by Cusco’s regional government.

Further down the Sacred Valley, tourist traffic over-runs Ollantaytambo, an Inca fortress that was the scene of one of the Andean empire’s few military victories over the invading Spaniards. Buses clog the narrow, cobbled streets of the village.

“Peru has been selling this idea that we are this amazing tourist destination but the reality is that we are not attending adequately to our visitors,” complains Joaquin Randall, the manager of El Albergue, the town’s oldest hotel, founded in 1925.

Suggestions by Ricardo Vega Llona, the businessman presiding over the centenary celebrations, that more people should visit Machu Picchu have been met with alarm by conservationists, who argue tourist traffic needs to be directed to other sites. Peru has 100,000 identified sites of archaeological interest. But only 2,800 have been officially signposted and marketed as attractions, while as few as 200 are protected with barriers or personnel.

“Everyone wants to go to Machu Picchu but there are 25 other sites in Peru that are just as amazing,” Mr Morgan told The Independent. Channelling visitors to these other sites would also better distribute the economic benefits of tourism in a country where nearly half of rural residents still do not get enough to eat.

Yet some of Peru’s greatest ruins, such as the imposing mountain fortress of Kuelap in northern Peru, have no road access and require strenuous treks of several days.

Meanwhile, the directorate of archaeology in Peru’s recently-founded Culture Ministry struggles with an annual budget of less than £1m and just 100 employees. According to Elias Mujica, a consultant on the development of archaeological sites, the directorate is “crippled” despite Peru’s immense archaeological resources and the economic opportunity they provide.

“Just imagine it,” sighs Hector Walde, head of the directorate, when it is pointed out that the equivalent agency in Mexico has around 2,500 staff working to protect Aztec, Maya and other ruins. The backlog of issues piled up in his inbox includes looting, uncontrolled urban development and inappropriate reconstruction by foreign archaeological teams.

Last month, authorities removed 4,500 tons of rubbish dumped by local communities inside the perimeter of the World Heritage Site Chan Chan, a spectacular pre-Inca adobe city on the Pacific coast. And farmers have been attempting to seize land at Caral, just north of Lima, a complex from 2,600BC and one of the Americas’ oldest known inhabited sites.

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GHF Mirador in Smithsonian Magazine

El Mirador, the Lost City of the Maya

April 2011


By Chip Brown
Photographs by Christian Ziegler

Now overgrown by jungle, the ancient site was once the thriving capital of the Maya civilization

The peak of La Danta—one of the world’s largest pyramids—pokes through the forest canopy. “All this was abandoned nearly 2,000 years ago,” says archaeologist Richard Hansen. “It’s like finding Pompeii.”  Christian Ziegler

Had we been traveling overland, it would have taken two or three days to get from the end of the road at Carmelita to El Mirador: long hours of punishing heat and drenching rain, of mud and mosquitoes, and the possibility that the jungle novice in our party (that would be me, not the biologists turned photographers Christian Ziegler and Claudio Contreras) might step on a lethal fer-de-lance or do some witless city thing to provoke a jaguar or arouse the ire of the army ants inhabiting the last great swath of subtropical rain forest in Mesoamerica.

Mercifully, Itzamna, the supreme creator god of the ancient Maya, had favored us with a pilot named Guillermo Lozano, who was now easing his maroon-striped Bell helicopter into the air. It was a Sunday morning in northern Guatemala, late October. Next to him up front was the archaeologist Richard Hansen, the director and principal investigator of the Mirador Basin Project. About a half-hour’s flying time due north was the Mirador basin itself—a 2,475-square-mile tract of jungle in northern Guatemala and Campeche, Mexico, filled with hidden ruins that Hansen and others refer to as “the cradle of Maya civilization.”

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Spy satellites watch ancient ruins

April 2011


By Dan Vergano

Indiana Jones seems a bit more like James Bond in archaeology these days, with the intrepid explorers of the ancient world growing ever more fond of high-tech tools.

Archaeological site of Umma, in present-day Iraq, taken in 2003. By Global Heritage Network, Digital

Everything from laser mapping to radioactive dating has been added to the spadework that once defined archaeology. One that might make the most difference?

Spy satellites.

“The ability to survey substantial amounts of remote structures from space is immensely appealing,” said Stony Brook University archaeologist Elizabeth Stone, at the recent Society for American Archaeology meeting in Sacramento. “Entire, unsuspected building sites can suddenly be seen,” Stone said, displaying new views of Iraq’s 3000 B.C. city of Kish, (” the first city founded after the Flood,” basically the Sumerian version of Noah’s flood in cuneiform records) at the meeting.

But that’s not all satellites can do for archaeology, and really, for everyone interested in the past. In March, the Global Heritage Fund launched its ” Global Heritage Network,” in cooperation with Google Earth and private imaging satellite firm DigitalGlobe, an ” early warning and threat detection system” for archaeological sites. In essence, antiquity now has its own spy agency, created to allow armchair archaeologists (as well as real ones), to watch for looting, disasters and other calamities at some of the most endangered sites of human history.

“Some of these places are being treated like junk,” says Jeff Morgan, executive director of the Global Heritage Fund, the Palo Alto, Calif., nonprofit organization dedicated to preservation of World Heritage Sites. The sites include some 911 cultural locations, ranging from Pompeii to Angkor Wat, deemed especially significant by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). “Our goal is to build a worldwide network,” Morgan says, of scholars, lawyers and people living near the sites to aid in their conservation.

As an added bonus, anyone online can explore the sites, seeing video, maps and slideshows that put UNESCO’s records to shame.

DigitalGlobe has contributed overhead imagery of about 600 sites to kick-start the project. Each site (580 now are in the network) will get a regularly-updated assessment.

“Ideally, the most-endangered sites will get the most frequent updates,” Morgan says, sites such as Ur in modern-day Iraq, damaged by Saddam Hussein’s historically-inaccurate restoration efforts, and the 12th-Century temple complex of Banteay Chhmar in Cambodia, looted of statues for decades.

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GHF Banteay Chhmar in World Archaeology

Saving Banteay Chhmar

March 2011


Download a PDF of the Article


A magnificent Khmer temple lies crumbling in forest near the Cambodian border. John Sanday and the Global Heritage Fund must overcome more than just neglect to save this site for posterity.

Banteay Chhmar is one of the crowning glories of King Jayavarman VII’s reign (AD 1181-c.1219). This Khmer king was a prolific builder, crisscrossing his dominion with roads, founding hospitals to care for his subjects, and creating magnificent temples to honour his family. But Banteay Chhmar, nonetheless, is something special. An architectural tour de force, it has the size and architectural refinement of a major metropolitan temple in the capital at Angkor. Yet Banteay Chhmar is not in the capital. It lies a considerable distance away, 170km northwest of the capital, in a remote region that has been described as ‘the most desolate place in Cambodia’. Why?

To understand this historic Buddhist monastic complex, it is important to relate it to the major Khmer sites in Angkor, as their impact on me and my team was essential to the development of the Global Heritage Fund (GHF) Banteay Chhmar Conservation Training Project. Their historical influence on Banteay Chhmar will also soon become apparent.

City of shrines
The sprawling city at Angkor covered, at its peak, an astonishing 1,000km², and formed the heart of a Khmer Empire which spread across present day Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand.

The religious needs of its inhabitants were sated by over a thousand shrines, of which the most famous is the great temple of Angkor Wat. This aesthetic triumph – built by Suryavarman II and, reputedly, the largest place of worship on the planet – preceded Jayavarman VII’s reign by about 50 years. Prior to his creation of Banteay Chhmar, Jayavarman VII built the two significant Buddhist monastic complexes of Ta Phrom and Preah Khan, and founded the walled city of Angkor Thom, which incorporated a group of 10th century monuments from a previous capital. He expanded one earlier temple there to create his new state temple – the Bayon – that is celebrated as the pinnacle of Jayavarman VII’s architectural innovations.

The Bayon, which was extended at the end of the 12th century, around the same time as Banteay Chhmar was built, is famous for its enclosure wall of bas relief panels, showing mystical and historical scenes, very similar to those found in Banteay Chhmar. Another example is the famous mythological bas reliefs in Angkor Wat, which were the first to be sculpted. All of them are examples of a breathtaking architectural tradition.

Another connection between the Bayon and Banteay Chhmar is that they have similar, fine face towers, and, following exhaustive study, it appears that those sculpted in Banteay Chhmar were prototypes for those of the Bayon. The gigantic faces on all four sides of the tower were probably Jayavarman VII’s imprimatur on the monuments he built. Appropriate, then, that these face towers are widely viewed as his finest architectural innovation.

The temple complex was built to commemorate the king’s son, and its remote location is believed to be because he fell in battle there.

Such early inaccessibility creates, today, both an opportunity and a problem. Following the king’s death, the state religion changed and the Angkorian temples were subjected to Hindu iconoclasm and subsequent alterations; but, at Banteay Chhmar there is a chance to study a site that remained untouched. This lack of modification, nevertheless, has come hand in hand with neglect, and for centuries the jungle has been encroaching, causing the towers and the bas relief arcades to collapse. In the mid 1990s an even more destructive force arrived: looters. They knocked down a unique stretch of bas reliefs with jackhammers and spirited away four out of a set of eight Avaloketesvaras (the Bodhisatva of compassion) on flatbed trucks to Thailand. Banteay Chhmar lies 170km northwest of Siem Reap, and only about 12km as the crow flies from the Thai border. Two of the panels have subsequently been returned to Cambodia, the remainder are still at large. Such theft was not without its risks. Banteay Chhmar was one of the last strongholds of the notorious modern Khmer Rouge, and ringed by minefields.

These deadly relics of conflict were only finally cleared in 2007, leaving Banteay Chhmar more vulnerable than ever to human depredation. Because of its architectural significance, Banteay Chhmar is now on UNESCO’s World Heritage ‘Tentative List’. Yet if the site was to survive, a preservation programme was urgently needed, and that is what the Global Heritage Fund (see box below) has provided. But before looking at how the temple is being saved, it is important to understand what makes the site exceptional.

The Buddhist builder
Jayavarman VII was an oddity, as his path to power appears to have been forged in war. Chinese sources record how, in 1178, the Cham, from Vietnam, seized the Khmer capital and executed the king. The Cham had little chance to savour their victory, as that very same year a Khmer force under the command of a prince repelled the invaders. In 1181 that prince became King Jayavarman VII, and only the second Buddhist to rule over the Khmer Empire. The new king’s building zeal ensured that his religion was swiftly set in stone.

Although architectural styles varied, the basic grammar of a Khmer temple proved remarkably enduring. At its heart was a wish to evoke the world of Indian mythology, with a wide moat representing the primordial sea, an outer temple enclosure wall mimicking the mountains that ring the world, and a central tower shrine symbolising Mount Meru, home to the gods. But whilst the barays (extensive man-made reservoirs) and moats served a powerful symbolic function, they also had a crucial practical purpose. Sophisticated water management schemes were the key to Khmer success, and vital if a sizable population was to endure the rigors of the dry season. The moats and barays were part of this hydraulic life support system, storing water to irrigate fields, and to support fish stocks. The additional task of supplying water would have been critical at Banteay Chhmar, in a region where even in the wet season the fields and forests are parched for weeks at a time.



The GHF is a private, non-profit organisation based in California, USA, and London, UK. It specialises in the conservation and long-term preservation of historic monuments of significance within developing countries. The Banteay Chhmar Conservation Training Project exemplifies the GHF’s approach to historic sites through a technique known as Preservation by Design – an approach to repairing, conserving, and presenting an historic site alongside plans to develop its own revenue to ensure long-term sustainability. Demonstrating that heritage sites can provide an income to local communities helps them to value it, an important step towards ensuring its survival. The GHF also monitors the status of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, keeping tabs on those at risk and publishing their findings.

Banteay Chhmar is a vast complex, with the total archaeological site covering an area of approximately 12km². At its centre is the main temple, which measures 750m by 700m, and is enclosed by a 60m-wide moat. To the east, closely associated with the temple and moat, is a large baray, covering an area of 1,400m by 500m. These water management features were sited with care, as there is evidence of a spring in the southeast corner of the moat in this otherwise arid zone. Various local rumours that this water source was augmented by canals coming from the hills to the northwest prompted the GHF to carry out an extensive survey of Banteay Chhmar’s water supply. A similar on-going study has produced an excellent understanding of the hydrology of Angkor. The Banteay Chhmar study has, indeed, proven the existence of supplementary water sources, and is an essential tool to identify a suitable water supply for the present community.

Nothing remains the same
There is every chance that future study will decipher Banteay Chhmar’s many mysteries, but this can only happen if the monument survives. The dangers facing it became apparent to me when I led a team to Banteay Chhmar in the early 1990’s. What greeted me made a lasting impression. Although I marvelled at the size of the temple complex, I was equally appalled by its condition – the priceless sculptures had been brutally looted, and the jungle was desecrating its shrines and courtyards. It was a far cry from the situation at Angkor, which, by then, enjoyed extensive international support and a government body dedicated to safeguarding Cambodia’s first World Heritage Site.

When, in 2007, I became Field Director for Asia at the GHF, I remembered Banteay Chhmar and, spurred by the confidence that came from 12 years working in Angkor, resolved to do something about it. This earlier work meant I had an experienced team to call upon, and crucially one that had learnt the merits of conservation versus restoration and reconstruction – the predominant approach in Asia.

The key to the success of such a project is to assess its condition and potential, and to develop a philosophy that takes into consideration its present status as an historic monument, its future use as a centre of learning, and the impact that any work to conserve and repair it will have on the local community.

As with any project in a developing country, practical considerations play a significant role. It is essential to identify and build an enthusiastic team of professionals and craftsmen, and to develop a sound knowledge of conservation techniques, as well as funds to undertake the proposed activities. In its formative years the GHF has worked on a sound set of principles ‘Preservation by Design’, which it has developed over the years. These were adopted at Banteay Chhmar, and have helped the team develop a well-coordinated programme.

The process of surveying and recording the site is a major challenge. Over 75% of the arcaded structures and bas reliefs that they once covered have fallen and are buried under mounds of stone rubble. Conserving these priceless artworks was perceived as essential. As at Angkor Wat and the Bayon, there is unique historical data to be found in the images depicted. After an overall assessment of structural stability and areas of potential collapse, we identified a sector of the complex with our partners – the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts (MCFA) – where we could begin a series of interventions. The first step was to record each and every stone in 1m2 grids and then referencing them to create an archive. The stones were carefully lifted and placed in the stone graveyard, where they were identified and slowly reassembled. Each stone is unique in shape and size, which has made the puzzle somewhat easier to solve! Where sections of the structure were still standing, precise architectural drawings were prepared.

At every stage, the structures were assessed to consider ways of reassembling them and design the simplest ways of ensuring their future stability. A typical example was devising ways to provide support for the bas relief walls, once we discovered they had no proper foundations.The combination of this, and the fast growing shrubs that had taken root on the walls, was the principle reason for Banteay Chhmar’s ruinous state.

The heavy monsoon rains had percolated the raised stone platform on which the bas relief walls were set, thus exacerbating their structural settlement. The platform had to be weatherproofed and the non-existent foundations were strengthened by the placement of new stone and laterite supports. Reforming the platform itself required several tons of specially selected clays mixed with slaked lime. Dug locally, the clay had to be beaten into powder. Original methods using a wooden mallet were found to be a tedious and lengthy process. Someone came up with the idea of using a traditional stone rice grinder and, with some adaptations, it did the trick – a good example of Preservation by Design!

Once the structural consolidation of the platform is complete, we can reconstruct the recently unearthed bas relief stones, and replace the sections that were threatening collapse. All the stones have been moved by hand using a simple block and tackle and a large structural tripod. After the procedures had been established, however, we found locally a mobile crane and a skilled operator who has trained up our team of craftsmen. In one day, they managed to carefully move 60 stones – each weighing over 500kg. By hand, it would have taken the team at least eight days!

For over a decade, a group of young Khmers underwent training in stone conservation at Angkor Wat, thanks to the German Apsara Conservation Project. This team, under the guidance of its master conservator, has recently formed its own company – the South Asian Conservation and Restoration Agency (SACRA) – and GHF has commissioned them to provide theoretical and practical training in Banteay Chhmar. The Banteay Chhmar team, consisting of eight local workers, spent time learning basic Angkorian history, studying the different conservation methods in Angkor, as well as undergoing practical stone conservation training on site in Banteay Chhmar. Under SACRA’s supervision, the team is now repairing and conserving the stones of Banteay Chhmar.

Another very exciting innovation has been collaboration with the Department of Scientific Computing (IWR) at Heidelberg University. Their challenge has been to help with the recording and development of a database for the thousands of fallen stones in Banteay Chhmar. The IWR has sent a team of its postgraduates along with state-of-the-art 3D digital camera technology. This team, working on site in Banteay Chhmar, as well as back in the IWR laboratories, is developing a highly sophisticated process for recording stones with the aim, as one of the senior professors aptly put it, ‘of solving John’s puzzle’.

They still have a huge task ahead of them and several refinements need to be made; but we hope that one day soon it will be possible to reassemble a group of disparate stones with the click of a button.

The indications that the Banteay Chhmar face towers are the proto-type for those at the Bayon of Angkor gives them a unique architectural importance. Realising their significance, the GHF has studied Face Tower 18 North with a view to its repair and structural consolidation, as it was threatening collapse. Emergency funds were found to document and dismantle 75% of it, and all the new technology and skills are being applied to repair and to rebuild it, providing added structural security and opening a new phase of research.

A topic with a much broader spectrum in Banteay Chhmar has been the ongoing hydrological research. Many theories have been proffered to date, but few of them have been based on proper research. Unlike in Angkor, there is no constant water source in Banteay Chhmar. The present supply for the local community is pumped from the moat. Due to extensive recent deforestation around the temple complex, rainwater run-off has become excessive, causing damaging floods. An added problem has been the rapid siltation of the moat itself, reducing the amount of water stored. Recent drought conditions have meant that local farmers abandoned planting rice in favour of cassava, which is a good cash crop. As a result, the forested areas have been destroyed to plant more and more cassava, thus reducing the absorption of rainwater to top up the aquifers.

Results of flash flooding can be seen in the drastic erosion of the historic East Causeway leading to the temple itself. This causeway, together with that to the west, acts as a dam, causing the water level to differ by more than 2m between the south and the north moats. If these dams fail, as a result of further flooding, not only will the community’s major water supply disappear, but also those living below the dam will lose their fields and dwellings.

While this painstaking work is gradually bringing Banteay Chhmar back from the brink, much depends on finding funds to establish a permanent Conservation Unit for the MCFA. This would be made up of trained Cambodians, and, ultimately, it is they who will determine the fate of Jayavarman VII’s masterpiece, and the many other sites in the region.


12 Ancient Landmarks on Verge of Vanishing

October 2010


by: John Roach


Cradle of Medieval Architecture

Photograph by Umit Bektas, Reuters

Damaged frescoes in the Church of St. Gregory of Tigran Honents tell a story of neglect in the medieval city of Ani, now part of Turkey.

Sitting in a militarized zone near the current Turkish-Armenian border, the city is one of 12 cultural sites on the verge of collapse, according to a report released this week by the San Francisco, California-based Global Heritage Fund.

Settled by Armenians in the 10th and 11th centuries, Ani holds churches and other buildings that helped inspire the Gothic style across Europe. The city was abandoned in the 14th century, when all Armenians were forced to leave under Turkish rule. Today the unprotected ruins are prone to looting and vandalism.

Similar sites around the world also hold significant archaeological and cultural value but are at risk due to looting, development pressures, unsustainable tourism, insufficient management, and wars or other conflicts, the report says.

“I don’t think they’ll vanish completely. They’ll just be ruins that are far less than they could be,” said Jeff Morgan, the Global Heritage Fund’s executive director. Modest investments could help restore and develop these sites for generations of sustainable tourism, according to the preservation group.

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GHF Vanishing In The News

The World's Vanishing History

October 2010


More than 200 heritage sites are in a state of irreversible disrepair and will be lost unless communities, governments and international groups act to prevent their destruction, said the Global Heritage Fund, a nongovernmental organization that focuses on historical preservation.

The group, which is unrelated to Unesco’s World Heritage division, said that sites in the developing world are most at risk.

“Especially in places in Asia, we’ve seen rapid growth destroying these sites and government regulation hasn’t kept up to protect them,” said Jeff Morgan, executive director of Global Heritage Fund (GHF). War, looting and insufficient management has also contributed to the degradation, GHF said.

This year’s GHF report, released last Sunday, included a list of the 12 most endangered sites. The list included two sites in Asia—Fort Santiago in Manila, Philippines, and India’s early 18th century Maluti Temples.


John Hurd
Fort Santiago, Intramuros, Philippines

The GHF and Unesco work toward the same goal of heritage preservation, but with slightly different approaches. When a site is awarded a Unesco World Heritage designation, it remains the responsibility of the local and national government to raise funds and orchestrate preservation efforts. GHF selects projects, often in the developing world, and provides financial and technical resources to assist with preservation.

For instance, at Pingyao—a Chinese city from the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911) that was designated a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1997—GHF has provided $250,000, and secured a $1.5 million commitment from the local government, to help restore a major courtyard and street, using local traditional materials. GHF also established a training program for craftspeople and artisans to preserve Pingyao’s “living heritage”— its centuries-old traditions of arts, crafts, cooking and performing arts.

GHF’s Mr. Morgan said Unesco’s process deters some developing nations from applying for recognition. “There are 45 sites that are recognized in Italy and yet Peru, which is home to ancient civilizations, only has 11. Pakistan only has six. Governments in developing countries can’t fill up the paperwork,” Mr. Morgan said.

Unesco said it is aware of GHF’s report and said any form of heritage protection is positive. Unesco has 34 sites on its own list of “World Heritage in Danger.” In these cases, Unesco draws international attention to the site, provides technical support and know-how, and in some cases provides urgent funding, said Gina Doubleday a Unesco spokesperson in Paris.

GHF Vanishing In The News

Ancient ruins worldwide 'on verge of vanishing'

October 2010


By Mark Tutton for CNN
October 18, 2010 8:09 a.m. EDT


Khirbat al Mafjar, or Hisham’s Palace is the remains of a winter palace built by the Islamic Ummayad dynasty. It was destroyed by a major earthquake around 747 A.D. and is now threatened by urban development.

Three historic sites in the Middle East are “on the verge of vanishing,” says report Global Heritage Fund has identified 12 sites at risk of irreparable loss Well-preserved sites can pay for themselves by attracting tourists, says GHF UNESCO warns that badly managed tourism can be just as much of a threat (CNN)—Twelve historic sites around the world are “on the verge of vanishing” because of mismanagement and neglect, according to a new report.

The report, by San Francisco-based Global Heritage Fund (GHF), identifies nearly 200 heritage sites in developing nations as being at risk, highlighting 12 as being on the verge of irreparable loss and destruction.

Three sites in the Middle East, Iraq’s Nineveh, Palestine’s Hisham’s Palace, and Turkey’s Ani, are among those most in danger.

The ruined city of Ani, on the border of Turkey and Armenia, dates back to the 11th century. Once known as “The City of a Thousand Churches,” many of its remaining buildings are now on the brink of collapse.

GHF executive director Jeff Morgan told CNN, “Ani is probably one of the top 10 sites in the world, right up there with Machu Picchu and Angkor Wat. It’s incredible.”

Morgan said Ani has been “caught in a political morass,” because of its position on the border of two countries that don’t have diplomatic relations.

Nineveh, near Mosul, in northern Iraq, was capital of the Assyrian empire from 705 to 612 B.C.. But Morgan says it is now at risk—not from the conflict in Iraq, but from lax planning regulations that have led to around 40 percent of the archaeological site being covered by modern development.

Hisham’s Palace, in the Palestinian territories, is the remains of a winter palace built by the Islamic Umayyad dynasty. It was destroyed by an earthquake around 747 A.D. and, like Nineveh, is now threatened by urban development.
“There’s no expertise there to be able to care of it,” said Morgan.

He said that in the Palestinian territories “there are all these ancient sites that are being destroyed because they’re building apartment blocks and commercial builds on top of the core archaeological areas and there’s no regulations to stop them.

“They feel like, ‘We’ve been doing it for thousands of years, so what the hell?’ But the difference is today, those sites can be economic engines for those places.”

Morgan argues that restoring these heritage sites will attract tourism that can pay for their ongoing preservation and bring sustainable income to local communities. He said there is huge potential for cultural tourism throughout the region.

“The whole Middle East is a treasure trove,” he said.

“Petra [in Jordan] is already huge. There’s Palmyra and Aleppo in Syria. Jordan has Jerash, Libya has Sabratha and Iran has huge tourism to all its sites because they’re so incredible.”

View a slideshow.

Read more.

Why Heritage Matters

October 2010


Josh Bernstein
International explorer and educator
October 18, 2010

This is the tale of two archaeological sites. The first I’m guessing you haven’t heard of. Roughly 11,500 years ago, a community of nomadic hunter gatherers in what is now southeastern Turkey created the oldest human-built place of worship we know of. It’s called Göbekli Tepe, and it sits on a hilltop sanctuary not too far from Turkey’s border with Syria. What’s most fascinating about Göbekli Tepe is the glimpse it gives us into the Eurasian pre-Neolithic period and what role ceremony played in pre-agricultural groups. Before there were domesticated animals or cultivated fields, the nomads around Göbekli Tepe decorated monoliths with icons of lions, gazelles, vultures and snakes (among others) and, in all likelihood, worshiped beneath them.

The other site can be found a hemisphere away, 8,000 miles to the southwest, nestled in the mountains of southcentral Peru. It’s called Machu Picchu and, of course, you’ve heard of it. Similar to Göbekli Tepe, Machu Picchu was also a ceremonial center, the royal estate of Incan Emperor Pachacuti. Although the stones of Machu Picchu don’t have any iconography carved into them, there’s no doubt their placement and shape played an important role in ceremonies and, in this regard, the sacred monoliths of both sites reveal certain aspects of their respective cultures. The stones of both sites also reveal a silent crisis that exists today. It’s called the crisis of vanishing heritage and it’s occurring all over the world.

On one end of the crisis’ spectrum sit the heritage sites you’ve never heard of, the Göbekli Tepes of the world. They’re found in developing countries like Turkey, China, India, and Guatemala. Their archaeological treasures often lie unprotected, subject to the effects of time, weather, and looting. The technology to conserve these sites exists, but obtaining proper funding, regional support, and on-site management can be challenging when public awareness and interest are lacking.

On the other end of the spectrum sit the heritage sites everyone has heard of… the Machu Picchus, Tikals, and Angkor Wats of the world. While time and weather (and some looting) affect these sites, too, the largest threats to their survival are overpopulation and unsustainable tourism - the sites are overrun with tourists who, in their eagerness to walk everywhere and touch everything, are literally destroying the places they sought to preserve. Management plans rarely include proper visitor control and even the best managers are under tremendous pressure to accept tourist dollars today despite the cost tomorrow.

So, how can we manage these sites in a sustainable fashion? How can we create a system of site selection, preservation, and conservation that helps the local economy protect a cultural treasure that ultimately belongs to the world? How can technology be leveraged to assist these efforts? These are just some of the questions being asked today at Stanford University in California, where a group of experts in conservation, development, archaeology, philanthropy, technology, tourism and travel have gathered to attend the first Forum on Cultural Heritage in a Developing World. Our goal: to review the data on heritage conservation efforts, discuss what’s working (and what’s not), and determine what solutions make sense for the future. As someone in the media who’s been to hundreds of archaeological sites around the world, I’ve happily agreed to serve as the Master of Ceremonies for the Forum. The keynote address—“Turning Oppression into Opportunities”—will be delivered by Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times journalist and author Nicholas Kristof.

The Forum and the accompanying 68-page report titled Saving Our Vanishing Heritage are the product of the Global Heritage Fund (GHF), a California-based international conservancy whose mission is “to protect, preserve, and sustain the most significant and endangered cultural heritage sites in the developing world.” (Full disclosure: I’m on GHF’s board.) GHF isn’t afraid to tackle heritage problems head on, to find solutions that help turn the tide, create public interest and ultimately protect these cultural treasures from their greatest threat: us.

The hard truth is that our planet is facing a number of population-driven crises right now, including environmental destruction, the loss of biodiversity and the collapse of ocean life. But whereas the rainforests and the oceans have their champions, little has been said on behalf of cultural heritage sites. Perhaps it’s because the stones and bones of archaeological sites hold less appeal than the fur of pandas and fins of sharks. Perhaps it’s because civilizations have always devalued and destroyed the accomplishments of those they’ve conquered—the churches of the Spanish, for example, where built on top of the temples of the Inca.

I sincerely hope that GHF and the Forum can help create a new vision for sustainable tourism and conservation, a model in which heritage sites generate revenue without sacrificing long-term preservation. Without a proper plan, sites will continue to disappear and, unlike a rainforest, once a heritage site is gone, it’s gone forever. What managed to survive for 10,000 years may disappear—silently, suddenly—within just a few decades.

The cultural tapestry that depicts the story of our collective heritage benefits from diversity; it celebrates the richness of language, the expressiveness of religion, the beauty of art. In a world too often focused on short-term issues and Western ideologies, we must make the effort to protect cultural heritage sites. Whether it’s Göbekli Tepe or Machu Picchu, the stories of our ancestors matter. Heritage matters. Our challenge is to recognize this before it’s too late.
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GHF Vanishing In The News

Opinion: Investing in world historic and cultural heritage sites is good business

October 2010


By William H. Draper III
Special to the Mercury News

What ventures will succeed and fail? As a venture capitalist, I’m often asked what the secret is.

There is no real secret. No one knows what will or won’t work. But experience, imagination and identifying the right strategies and players are critical ingredients in any recipe for success.

This not only applies to for-profit venture capital but also to one of my first nonprofit investments. The Draper Richards Foundation provides selected social entrepreneurs seed money to start new nonprofits. Kiva and Room to Read are among our best known successes, but a less-known organization—and the economic implications of its work—also deserves attention.

Global Heritage Fund (GHF) works in the developing world to rescue significant cultural and historical sites before they vanish forever. Think the next Machu Picchu or Angkor Wat. And just as a venture capitalist evaluates potential investments, GHF has a unique lens through which it selects its sites. It looks for places that offer economic promise and local partners who will help to fund, preserve and manage the restored sites.

GHF has discovered something that the international development world should take note of: Heritage sites can be economic engines for countries that desperately need sustainable industries. The organization is sharing that news today at a “Forum on Cultural Heritage in a Developing World” at Stanford.

In a new report on the world’s most endangered and promising heritage sites, available at, GHF estimates that such places could be a $100 billion opportunity for developing nations by 2025. Tourism is already the leading industry for many poor countries, bringing jobs, infrastructure and regional growth.

Look at Guatemala, one of Latin America’s poorest countries. The restoration of Tikal, the immense Mayan ruin, has brought 12 million visitors and $200 million in annual revenues.

That’s just the start. Deep in the Mayan biosphere is Mirador, considered to be the cradle of Mayan civilization and home to the earliest and largest Preclassic Maya archeological sites in Mesoamerica, including the world’s largest pyramid. Coming in with a plan and money of its own, GHF secured $4 million from the Guatemalan government and $3 million from its private sector (including Citibank Latin America and Wal-Mart Centro America) to create an economically sustainable, 810,000-acre archaeological and wildlife preserve that will rival Tikal when it’s complete.

Restored sites bring jobs that are safe, sustainable, legal and local, as opposed to short-lived, dangerous and sometimes illegal work that takes mothers and fathers far from their homes.

Juan Carlos Calderon, for example, grew up in a remote village bordering Mirador. Uneducated and struggling to feed his family, he subsisted on looting nearby ruins. Since the restoration began, Juan Carlos now defends the assets that he once plundered. For the past five years, he has worked as a park guard, which provides steady income, access to health care and education opportunities. His eldest son completed high school and is studying law.

The restoration of heritage sites can transform people, countries and economies. But some of civilization’s most important sites remain endangered. We are missing a huge opportunity.

I may not always know which ventures will succeed, but I know a good bet when I see one. No one will see these sites, however—let alone their potential economic benefits—if we don’t save them.

WILLIAM H. DRAPER III is managing director of Draper Richards L.P. and Draper International, as well as chairman of The Draper Richards Foundation and author of the upcoming book, The Startup Game. He wrote this article for this newspaper.

GHF Banteay Chhmar in the News

Temples of Doom?

June 2010


THE HELICOPTER raced over the great rice fields of Cambodia, and I peered into the distance for a first glimpse of my destination. The silvery flash below was a straight line of water, which soon revealed itself to be part of the moat surrounding a temple complex. As we descended, heading towards a tangle of huge blocks of stone and tropical vegetation, I noticed that the moat was dotted with lovely pink lotus flowers. Then the workings of an archaeological site became evident: scaffolding, storage sheds, a pick-up truck.

My destination was the temple site of Banteay Chhmar, largely created 800 years ago by the great Khmer builder King Jayavarman VII. Despite all the work going on, the site still felt like antiquity in the raw. Scrambling over the ruins, also a playground for adventurous local kids, was certainly more Indiana Jones than Time Team.

Although much less celebrated than the nearby temples and palaces of Angkor, Banteay Chhmar is full of interest and delight. In the 1990s the site suffered badly from looters attracted by its remarkable bas-reliefs; and some of its stone towers, which weigh in at around 150 tons each, were on the verge of collapse. But now Banteay Chhmar is being saved from damage and decay. And saved, too, from the almost unrestricted development which has done so much harm to Angkor.

Angkor is the Venice of South-east Asia. Not just because of the beauty of its waterways but because, like Venice, Angkor is being crushed under the weight of tourism. The parallel goes further: the combination of sheer numbers and poor management of visitors is common to both. Most visitors to Venice seem to head for St Mark’s Square and then follow a tightly circumscribed route around the city, which results in overcrowding at key points. Ditto Angkor, where buses disgorge an unending stream of tourists at a small number of popular sites.

In Venice, though, it is the tides that are the enemy; in Angkor the threat comes from within. The Khmers were visionary builders, but not good at structural engineering. Conservation architect John Sanday explains that ‘the Khmers were carpenters. They didn’t really understand stone.’ Their vast works were erected quickly: the building of Angkor Wat by King Surayavarman II is said to have taken 34 years. But sandstone and the local volcanic rock, laterite, were the chosen materials; and both can be as crumbly as shortbread. With two million visitors annually (the Cambodian government’s estimate for 2009), the result has been a conservation nightmare.

Since Cambodia’s 1997 coup d’etat, tourism has flourished. Siem Reap, the modern city that serves Angkor, is a boomtown. A dozen years ago it had 25 hotels: now there are more than a hundred, plus the inevitable T-shirt shops, pubs and massage parlours. It is a major short-break destination for Japanese, Chinese and Korean tourists - understandably so, since the Angkor site is a huge attraction. At 400sq km, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is more than a quarter of the size of Greater London. The scale and beauty of its infrastructure are hard to grasp. The Angkor Wat temple is the largest religious building on the planet; the reservoir of the West Baray is the biggest single manmade structure in the pre-industrial world. Fortunately, theft and vandalism are less significant problems now than they were; but unless visitor numbers are managed more carefully, Angkor will literally collapse under the weight of its own success. Also, tourist dollars don’t always reach the local economy: Korean tour groups, for example, often stay in Korean-owned hotels and travel on Korean-owned coaches.

Banteay Chhmar lies to the north-east of Angkor, three hours away by car (half of it on roads that are either mud or dust, depending on the time of year) or 35 minutes by helicopter. It is a different world. At this large, 12th-century temple complex, the California-based Global Heritage Fund is combining archaeological scholarship and conservation with a long-term commitment to developing skills and a sustainable tourism business for the local economy. It has a number of partners in this enterprise, ranging from the Cambodian Ministry of Culture to the US-based Friends of Khmer Culture.

Global Heritage’s strategy offers a practical solution to many of the problems that affect remote ancient sites. Local people are being trained in a number of skills, from basic excavation to stone carving: there are already 40 villagers working on the site. Equally important is the decision to avoid over-restoring the temple complex: the plan is to keep it as a partial ruin so that visitors can share the excitement and mystery of a great site emerging from the jungle. Integral to the project is Global Heritage’s commitment to what it calls Community-Based Tourism. Visitors are encouraged to stay with local families who have been helped to set up B&B accommodation, so that more of what is spent in the village stays in the village. The rooms may be pretty basic, but they are clean and cheap (US$7 per person), and the closest a foreign visitor will get to living like a Cambodian.

Banteay Chhmar is not Angkor, although it is about to be nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is much smaller, and even when the new road gets built it will remain remote. The site currently attracts about 100 visitors a month; however, that figure is expected to rise to 10,000. But these visitors will contribute both to preserving the site and ensuring the prosperity and stability of the local community.