Interior Department Nominates Poverty Point National Monument For World Heritage Site Designation

Poverty Point National Monument in Louisiana is being nominated to be designated a World Heritage Site. This is one of the earthen mounds found at the site. NPS photo.

Poverty Point National Monument, a historic site in Louisiana that was a major trade center 3,000 years ago, has been nominated for designation as a World Heritage Site by the Interior Department.

The nomination document was prepared by the State of Louisiana, which recognizes Poverty Point as a state historic site and manages the site for the National Park Service, in consultation with the National Park Service’s Office of International Affairs. The nomination has been submitted through the U.S. Department of State to the offices of the World Heritage Centre in Paris, France.

If approved by the World Heritage Committee, the prehistoric earthworks would join the Taj Mahal, the Statue of Liberty, Stonehenge, the Grand Canyon and the Great Barrier Reef on the list of 962 sites in 157 countries designated as the most significant cultural and natural sites on the planet.

“Tucked into the bayous of Louisiana, the Poverty Point earthworks are the remarkable legacy of a prehistoric hunter-gatherer society that existed thousands of years ago,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in announcing the nomination. “Designation as a World Heritage Site not only would be an honor for both Louisiana and the United States but also would be an invitation to domestic and international travelers, helping to accomplish the goals of President Obama’s National Travel and Tourism Strategy to generate jobs through increased tourism.”

“Designation as a World Heritage Site is how the international community shines a light on the places that should be special to all of us,” said Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “This nomination of Poverty Point earthwork is an important way to share what we value as a people, the places that define our society.”

Located in northeastern Louisiana on a bayou of the Mississippi, Poverty Point is a vast, integrated complex of earthen monuments, constructed 3,100 – 3,700 years ago. It consists of six enormous, concentric earthen ridges with an outer diameter of more than a half mile, and several large mounds, including one of the largest in North America. This constructed landscape was the largest and most elaborate of its time on the continent; the particular form of the complex is not duplicated anywhere else in the world.

The site is especially notable because it was built by a settlement of hunter-gatherers, not an agricultural society. The UNESCO World Heritage List is part of the World Heritage Convention, an international treaty signed by 190 countries for natural site conservation and cultural site preservation first proposed by the United States government in 1972.

After reviews by World Heritage Centre staff and by the International Council for Monuments and Sites, it will be considered for inscription on the World Heritage List by the World Heritage Committee, which is a rotating body of 21 nations elected from among the signatories of the World Heritage Convention.

Inscription as a World Heritage Site does not impose any legal restrictions on property owners or neighbors of sites, nor does it give the United Nations any management authority or ownership rights in the United States. Designated sites continue to be subject only to existing federal and local laws. The agreement of the property owner is required by U.S. law in order for a site in this country to be nominated to the World Heritage List.

Two other potential nominations of U.S. sites are now in development: the San Antonio Franciscan Missions in Texas, and 11 buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright located throughout the United States.