Decision : 38 COM 8B.39
Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point (United States of America)
The World Heritage Committee,
- Having examined Documents WHC-14/38.COM/8B and WHC-14/38.COM/INF.8B1,
- Inscribes the Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point, United States of America, on the World Heritage List on the basis of criterion (iii);
- Takes note of the following provisional Statement of Outstanding Universal Value:
The Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point is a publicly-owned and managed archaeological park in the parish of West Carroll, State of Louisiana, United States of America. The site is located on the eastern edge of an elevated landform, Macon Ridge, in the Lower Mississippi Valley. Today the ridge, which is about 7-9m higher than the adjacent lowlands to the east, overlooks and is abutted on its eastern side by the Bayou Maçon.
The site consists of an integrated complex of earthen monuments, in the main constructed 3,700-3,100 years ago in the Late Archaic period. The complex includes large mounds and associated borrow/quarry areas, six semi-elliptical earthen ridges with an outer diameter of 1.14 km and a large flat plaza bordered by the ridges. Mound A, one of the largest constructed earthen mounds in North America, dominates the site. Collection and archaeological excavations have documented the rich material culture associated with this complex.
The Poverty Point complex is recognised internationally as an important site not just because of its scale, the integration of the earthworks and the extent to which the complex is intact, but crucially because it was built by hunter-fisher-gatherers.
The elevated natural topography of the site above the Holocene alluvial lowlands provided a secure place for human settlement in an area otherwise prone to flooding, and influenced the layout of the complex and the placing of the earthworks: it helps to make it clear why the site was selected as the location of the monumental complex.
All the singular elements that make up the complex as they survive in shape and substance - the mounds, the system of ridges and swales, the aisles, the plaza with the posthole circles, the causeway, the bisector ridge, the dock and the borrow areas - as well as their spatial organisation in relation to the topography, illustrate the refined use of natural features and topography to create a designed monumental landscape.
The extensive earth rearrangements beneath the above-ground structures attest to the extensive earthmoving to combat soil erosion and to achieve the required design. The archaeological deposits concealed below ground represent a repository of potential further information on the property and its builders.
The meandering Bayou Maçon, with its riverine vegetation, and the boggy and wooded areas, provide a sense of the natural environment at the time Poverty Point was constructed.
Criterion (iii): Poverty Point Monumental Earthworks bear exceptional testimony to a vanished cultural tradition, the Poverty Point culture, centred in the Lower Mississippi Valley during the Late Archaic period, 4,000-2,500 years ago. This site, which dates to 3,700-3,100 BP, is an outstanding example of landscape design and monumental earthwork construction by a population of hunter-fisher-gatherers. The mound complex is a singular achievement in earthen construction in North America: it was not surpassed for at least 2,000 years (and only then by people supported by a farming economy). The particular layout of the complex is unique to this site. The natural setting of this inland settlement was an important factor in the site’s establishment and longevity. The location provided easy access to the Mississippi River valley and the hardwood forests along its margins. Although rich in edible resources, the setting lacked stone, a critical raw material for tools and other objects. Thus, an extensive trade network for rocks and minerals from hundreds of kilometres away played a key role in the Poverty Point phenomenon.
The property is well preserved; repair and maintenance works are carried out regularly, especially to counteract soil erosion. The current boundaries of the property correspond to those of the Poverty Point State Historic Site: they include most of the elements that make up this monumental complex and the visual and functional relationship between them. However, elements that possibly relate to the cultural and contextual setting of this complex and which act as functional support to Poverty Point occur beyond the boundaries of the property. It is therefore of utmost importance that an area with formalised regulatory mechanisms be defined and enforced to ensure the protection and connection of the property with its historic–cultural setting. Highway 577 crosses the property from north to south: it interferes with the enjoyment of the complex and presents a danger to visitors. Viable solutions to divert its route to outside the property should be investigated as soon as possible.
Physical and intangible attributes of the nominated property as they have survived down the millennia, coupled with the extensive information obtained from the archaeological research conducted on the site and with the rich and largely undisturbed buried deposits, bear exceptional and credible witness to the Outstanding Universal Value of the Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point and to the complex socio-cultural pattern of the societies that built the complex. The agricultural landscape of the close and wider setting surrounding the property largely contributes to its understanding and enjoyment and it is therefore of utmost importance that this character be retained in the future.
Protection and management requirements
Poverty Point Monumental Earthworks has been owned and managed by the State of Louisiana as a state historic site open to the public since 1972. The management structure has been established under the federal and state legal framework in force, further strengthened by a Station Archaeologist program which ensures that research results be included in the scope of the management. Management efforts should also focus on the need for the protection and proper management of Poverty Point’s historic-cultural setting and for the retention of its agricultural character. Crucial for the support of the Outstanding Universal Value of the property is the definition of an area surrounding the nominated property and including the immediate setting of the nominated property, important views and other areas or attributes that are functionally important as a support to the property and its protection, and the establishment of a formalised framework of regulatory mechanisms for the protection and management of the property, that acts like a buffer zone.
- Recommends that the State Party give consideration to the following:
- Continuing its policy of land acquisition in parallel with scientific investigations with a view to establishing favourable conditions to enlarge the limits of the property in case research results would suggest doing so,
- Continuing to implement and assess best management practices that have been successful in minimizing the impact of Highway 577 on the visitor experience at the site,
- Continuing to build capacity and expertise within the management system to profit from the existing Geographical Information Systems (GIS) approach;
- Requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre by 1 December 2015, a report, including a 1-page executive summary, on the implementation of the above-mentioned recommendations for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 40th session in 2016.