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11 October 2009
World Monuments Fund's list of threatened sites

Several cultural heritage sites are threatened by neglect or overdevelopment, a preservationist group said. The World Monuments Fund's watch list for 2010 includes 93 sites in 47 countries. "The 2010 watch makes it clear that cultural heritage efforts in the 21st century must recognize the critical importance of sustainable stewardship and that we must work closely with local partners to create viable and appropriate opportunities to advance this," World Monuments Fund President Bonnie Burnham said.
     The monuments fund, dedicated to saving important landmarks around the world, said the Damiya dolmen field (Jordan) is under threat. During the Early Bronze Age (3600-3000 BCE), massive slabs of Ramla sandstone and travertine were used to create burial chambers. Roughly 300 dolmens survive in the Damiya Dolmen Field. Along with several other rock-cut tombs and circular stone-cut features, the mortuary structures of the Damiya Dolmen Field together form a highly significant and rare landscape. Unfortunately, dolmen sites throughout Jordan are being lost at an alarming rate, and the unparalleled landscape of Damiya is now threatened by developmental pressures from quarrying operations. With only a negligible barrier left to protect them, many of the fragile dolmens are now suspended on quarried pillars and left vulnerable to collapse. Despite efforts by the Jordanian Department of Antiquities to document the structures, they are unable to abate the destruction that these highly invasive quarrying processes will exact on these ancient vestiges. Watch listing aims to raise awareness about the plight of this extraordinary landscape and ensure its protection.
     Also threatened by new development are the petroglyphs in the Diamer-Basha dam area (Pakistan). Over 50,000 rock carvings and 5,000 inscriptions discovered here serve as a timeline from the Epipaleolithic period to the pre-Islamic 'golden era' of Buddhism. The earliest petroglyphs, which depict wild animals such as ibex and the Himalayan blue sheep, were created by groups of hunter-gathers who were first drawn to this mountainous region in the early Holocene. At the approach to the first millennium BCE, the Eurasian style of animal drawing was introduced from Central Asia by the Sycthian and Sakan tribal groups. In 2006, the Pakistani government approved the construction of a dam near Basha that will submerge these petroglyphs. The dam will provide much needed infrastructure to this remote area, but will sever any remaining connection between these communities and the vestiges of their past. Recognizing the need to balance development and heritage stewardship, documentation of the petroglyphs and possible protection measures are being sought so as to mitigate the effects of the dam on this unparalleled complex.
     The Wonderwerk Cave (South Africa) is one of fewer than five sites worldwide with evidence of human occupation nearly 2 million years old. Indications are apparent throughout: Oldowan stone tools can be seen in a basal unit, and rock art is present in several areas of the cave, signifying the religious and spiritual practices exercised for over 10,000 years. Partial erosion and threats of imminent collapse in certain areas have forced the cave to be closed to visitors. Additionally, continued research into the geology and archaeology of the site has not only slowed, but is severely threatened by the prospect of collapse. The historical, artistic, and archaeological significance of Wonderwerk cannot be underestimated, as it preserves one of the few remaining ancient shelters of prehistoric man.

Sources: Discovery News (6 October 2009), World Monuments Fund (October 2009)

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