Sep 21, 2023 - World

UNESCO adds early-Mayan spot as World Heritage Site

The Tak'alik Ab'aj archaeological site just north of El Asintal, Retalhuleu Department, west of Guatemala City, in 2018. Photo: Johan Ordóñez/AFP via Getty Images

A Guatemalan archeological area that dates back to the early rise of the Mayans has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Driving the news: UNESCO this week added a slew of new sites to its list of places of "outstanding universal value" that should be preserved.

  • These are described as either records of past history and cultures, as current places of significant biodiversity, or areas that serve as living memory.

What to know: The Tak'alik Ab'aj park is one of few preserved Mesoamerican transitional sites, showing how one civilization emerged from what was left of another.

  • Tak'alik Ab'aj, which flourished between the ninth century B.C. and the 10th century A.C., has mixed Olmec and Mayan elements.
  • The site's name means "standing stones" in the Mayan K'iche' language in honor of its hundreds of carved stelae.
  • "This site is the start of our amazing history" as Guatemalans, outgoing President Alejandro Giammattei said on X on Monday.

Zoom out: Other sites from the Americas added to UNESCO's World Heritage list this week are the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks in Ohio and the largest former clandestine torture and detention site in Argentina, the ESMA.

  • The latter is one of few sites related to significant violence — including the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, Rwandan genocide memorial sites and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial — that the UN body has highlighted to serve as warning reminders of atrocities.

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