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Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Valley: originary habitat of Mesoamerica

Date de soumission : 16/11/2017
Critères: (iii)(iv)(vi)(x)
Catégorie : Mixte
Soumis par :
Permanent Delegation of Mexico to UNESCO
État, province ou région :
State of Puebla and State of Oaxaca
Ref.: 6279

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Les noms des biens figurent dans la langue dans laquelle les États parties les ont soumis.


Zapotitlan-Cuicatlán: 17° 59’23.86’’ N, 97° 11’ 13.75’’ W
San Juan Raya: 18° 18’ 05.30’’N, 97° 35’ 17.98’’ W
Purrón: 18° 12’ 01.41’’ N, 97° 07’ 07.85’’W

The Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Valley: originary habitat of Mesoamerica is a serial and mixed cultural and natural World Heritage nomination proposal. It is located in central-southern Mexico, covering portions of the southeast of the State of Puebla and of the north of the State of Oaxaca with a surface of 145,255.20 ha and a buffer zone of 344,931.68 ha. The nominated property is inside the Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Biosphere Reserve (TCBR), natural protected area established in 1998.

The property contains the most representative and best preserved natural and cultural features of the Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Valley. The property includes three elements or component parts: the Zapotitlán-Cuicatlán zone, the San Juan Raya zone and the Purrón zone. The component parts were chosen for their representativeness, the relevance of the archaeological sites, their ecological and cultural integrity, as well as for its effective legal protection and the adequate management for its conservation. These component parts as a whole constitute the Outstanding Universal Value of the Property.

The extraordinary importance of the area has given birth to diverse academic, social and governmental initiatives that seek to coordinate efforts for the conservation of the region according to sustainable environmental and social criteria. As a result, the Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Biosphere Reserve (TCBR) was decreted in 1998. The Reserve was incorporated to the World Network of Biosphere Reserves of the Man and Biosphere Programme (MaB) of UNESCO in 2012, for the conservation, and sustainable use of its resources.

The combination of both rich and distinctive environmental and anthropological features has drawn many researchers from around the world to the region. The numerous studies conducted have highlighted the interest in the region’s geology, palaeontology and biology as well as in the archaeology, both historic and prehistoric, as well as in the diversity of the indigenous peoples that have inhabited the Valley for at least 12,000 years.

Justification de la Valeur Universelle Exceptionelle

The Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Valley: originary habitat of Mesoamerica is a national serial, mixed natural and cultural heritage nomination to the UNESCO World Heritage List. The property is composed of three zones or component parts that encompass the most representative and well-preserved natural areas of the Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Valley taking into account the most relevant archaeological sites that together hold and convey its Outstanding Universal Value.

The TCBR is a world biodiversity hotspot. It contains biomes characterized by high levels of endemic and endangered species, rare flora and plant communities. Its faunistic diversity surpasses that of any other dry-lands of the planet and, moreover, it is an outstanding agrobiodiversity centre. Of the 36 plant communities, 15 different xeric shrublands are exclusive to the Valley. All possible forms of plant life and 70 percent of the flora families worldwide are represented. The extraordinary biodiversity includes over 3,000 species of vascular plants of which ten percent are endemic to the Valley. It is also a world centre of diversification for numerous groups of plants, in which the cacti stand out, with 28 genera and 86 species of which 21 are endemic. Large “cacti-forests” shape some landscapes of the Valley making it one of the most unique areas in the world.

On the cultural heritage, the Valley possesses an immense cultural richness that is manifested through the multiple archaeological remains found in the area where the constant adaptation of humans to the environment is reflected for more than 14,000 years. These remains, let them be watering systems, early evidences of domestication of plants and early evidences of the different political, religious and residential settlements have made possible to do the most complete reconstruction of the prehistory of human societies in Mesoamerica and are essential to the understanding of scientific, cultural, ethological and historical dimensions of human development in the region. The archaeological sites allow us to recognize the Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Valley as a key site to understand the origins of agriculture and irrigation in Mesoamerica that gave rise to an unparalleled cultural wealth in the region. As the site of origin of the most ancient and diversified linguistic group and being the home of the largest collection of prehispanic manuscripts produced in the American continent, the Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Valley stands out as a key site for the understanding the history of Mesoamerica from the beginning.

Criterion (iii): The ancient Otomanguean Tradition is still alive and is reflected primarily through language. The indigenous peoples of the Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Valley speak Cuicatec, Chinantec, Chocho, Ixcatec, Mazatec, Popoloca and Mixtec, which are all branches of the Proto-Otomanguean language.

Being one of the ten megadiverse countries, Mexico is also one of the most linguistically diverse countries worldwide. With 291 living languages in the country, Mexico is placed in the fifth position after Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Nigeria and India (CONABIO, 2008).

The Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Valley is located in the states of Puebla and Oaxaca and it is the nuclear area of the Proto-Otomanguean linguistic family. With 174 languages it is the most diversified linguistic family of America and ninth globally after Niger - Congo (1,514), Austronesian (1,268), trans-New Guinea (564), Indo-European (449) Sino-Tibetan (403), Afro-Asiatic (375), Australian (263) and Nilo-Saharan (204).

Criterion (iv): The Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Valley: originary habitat of Mesoamerica is an outstanding example of a long process of adaptation and technological developments that defined the ancient cultural region known today as Mesoamerica. The earliest evidences of this long process date back to 10,000 B.C. and have remained to date forming a defined cultural landscape where the interaction between man and nature is reflected.

The archaeological vestiges of the Valley, beginning with the caves, the earliest evidence of plant domestication, a sophisticated system of water management and subsequent technological developments such as salt production and the emergence of pottery in the territory, allow the understanding of the scientific, cultural, ethological and historical dimensions of the development of mankind in the region.

All these elements denote the continuity of dwelling of the Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Valley since pre-Hispanic times to date, and strengthen its national and international importance as the birthplace of Mesoamerican civilisations, one of the most ancient in the world.

Criterion (vi):  With 32 pictographic documents, the Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Valley is the region that has produced the largest amount of prehispanic manuscripts in the Americas, depicting the ritual and political life before the arrival of the Spanish. This tradition of communicating continued in the Colonial era. Those works of the highest historic, iconographic and aesthetic value narrate the history of the peoples from their origins, foundation and everyday life during the Spanish viceroyalty. In that way, they allow us to get a rich vision of the Mesoamerican region and the history of its occupants. The vast production of those manuscripts in the zone make the Valley a unique site related in a direct and tangible manner to the creation of literary and atristic works of an outstanding universal value.

All the information that the Codices provide reinforces the relevance of the Valley as the site where Mesoamerican civilisations originated, and strengthens the bond existing between the cultural and natural attributes of the zone, which are clearly represented in the manuscripts.

Criterion (x): The Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Valley is the arid and semiarid zone with the greatest biological diversity in North  America. Due to its high levels of endemic and endangered species, its rare flora and plant communities, the site is a world biodiversity hotspot. Its faunistic diversity surpasses that of any other dry-lands of the planet and, moreover, it is an outstanding agrobiodiversity centre.

Located in central-southern Mexico, where the Neotropic and Neartic realms intersect, the Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Valley contains biomes characterized by high species richness, endemism, taxonomic uniqueness, unusual phenomena and global rarity of major habitat type. As such, it belongs to the Chihuahuan-Tehuacan Deserts ecoregion, one of 200 Priority Ecoregions of the WWF. It also located within the biogeographical province Madrean-Cordilleran of Udvardy and is included in the Madrean-Pine-Oak Woodlands biodiversity hotspot. Within Mexico, the Valley is a Priority Land Region and includes two Important Areas for the Conservation of Birds as per the National Commission for Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity.

Déclarations d’authenticité et/ou d’intégrité


In regard to the last statement, investigators point out that the knowledge of the inhabitants of the Tehuacán- Cuicatlán Valley is paramount to conserve, along with the federal and local authorities, the environmental diversity and cultural richness that it houses. Certain areas of the Valley are still relatively isolated due to the difficult access to them; hence these communities have remained secluded from the contemporary world surviving thanks to ancestral indigenous economies mixed with the economy implanted by the conquistadors.

The nominated property counts with the presence of eight indigenous peoples: the Cuicatec, the Chinantec, the Chocholtec, the Ixcatec, the Mazatec, the Mixtec, the Nahua and the Popoloca; who have tried to preserve their natural surroundings, culture and monuments due to their sacred significance. Each of their territories is comprised by urban areas, farming areas, and idle land. For the inhabitants, within these spheres the presence of the sacred still manifests itself to this day. In regard to this subject, the Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Valley is an outstanding example of the safeguarding of the Spirit of Place, as per the definition stated by ICOMOS in the Quebec Declaration on the Preservation of the Spirit of Place (2008).

The combination of material elements (the sites, the landscapes, the pre-Columbian monuments) and inmaterial elements (the oral testimonies, the codices, the rituals and the festivities) add to the meaning and value of the mixed property.

The cultural aspects of the Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Valley: originary habitat of Mesoamerica, confirms the importance of cultural continuity in the area inasmuch as each one of these are linked, representing the different stages of the lengthy history of the cultural and social development of Mesoamerica and the New Spain. As part of an integrated whole of the mixed property, they have a profound historical meaning in the development of Humanity, that not only integrates the past with the present, but also keeps a door open to alternatives of sustainable development for the future.


The nominated property Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Valley: originary habitat of Mesoamerica contains the most representative habitats and plant communities of the floristic province Tehuacán-Cuicatlán. It is precisely for this representativeness and its ecological integrity, as well as for its legal protection and functional management, that the three zones or component parts of the nominated property were chosen: the Purrón zone, the San Juan Raya zone and the Zapotitlán-Cuicatlán zone. These zones clearly maintain landscape, ecological, evolutionary and habitat connectivity and as a whole, includes all the biodiversity elements that conveys the natural Outstanding Universal Value.

The three component parts were also selected for their legal protection and functional management. The nominated property Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Valley: originary habitat of Mesoamerica is completely included within the boundaries of the Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Bisophere Reserve. The protected area was designated by the Mexican federal government under the category of biosphere reserve in accordance with the Mexican General Law of Ecological Balance and Environmental Protection (LGEEPA) by means of the Presidential decree published in the Mexican Federal Official Gazette on September 18, 1998. In addition, the Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Biosphere Reserve was incorporated to the World Network of Biosphere Reserves of the Man and Biosphere Programme (MaB) of UNESCO in 2012.

In accordance with the LGEEPA (Article 48), biosphere reserves are established in biogeographic areas that are relevant at a national level, that are representative of one or more ecosystems that have not been altered significantly by human activity or that need to be preserved and restored and in which species that are representative of the national biodiversity inhabit, including those considered endemic, threatened or in danger of extinction.

A management plan for the Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Biosphere Reserve was published in accordance with the provisions set forth in the LGEEPA. Among other particularities, it establishes that the main objective of the Reserve is the conservation of biodiversity. The management plan fully considers the various threats to the area and establishes objectives, strategies and specific actions in coordination with key stakeholders to address these threats and the diverse effects of development.

Comparaison avec d’autres biens similaires

Bam ans its cultural landscape, Iran; This site has multiple similarities to the water management system of the Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Valley as they both represent ancient water management systems in a desert atmosphere, thus revealing a long process of interaction between humankind and the environment. The water management system of the Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Valley reveals a similar interaction in a different cultural environment and with a different water management system.

Neolithic site of Çsyslhöyük, Turkey;  The site of Çatalhöyük, Turkey has 18 levels of Neolithic occupation that date back from 7400 – 6200 B.C.; it features cave paintings, relief work, sculptures and other symbolic and artistic features that testify the evolution of the social organization and the cultural practices of humans during the adaptation to sedentary life. Çatalhöyük provides evidence of how small towns transitioned to urban agglomerations, which have remained in the same location for over 2,000 years. Those are the same transition as in the Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Valley.

Cultural Sites of Al Ain (Hafit, Hili, Bidaa Bint Saud and Oases Areas), United Arab Emirates;  The irrigation system of falajs, the Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Valley possesses a very ancient water management system in a desert region with archaeological traces of pre-Hispanic cultures. Similarly, it provides important proof of the transition from hunter- gatherer to sedentary societies. These different systems show the cultural evolution of a region in different parts of the world.

Mount Qingcheng and the Dujiangyan Irrigation System, China;  The irrigation system of Dujiangyan is an ancient system that has been maintained to date. Although it differs greatly from the Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Valley system, both sites have ancient water management systems that remain in use in the present; provided, that in the case of the Valley, some components of the system have fallen into disuse, but some of them are maintained with great vitality, such as salt mines and some of the canals.

Chan Chan, Peru; The irrigation system of Chan Chan is one of the most extensive and advanced pre-Hispanic water management systems of the continent that allowed the development of the largest pre-Columbian city in America. The water management systems of the Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Valley are also very extensive and allowed for the development of Mesoamerica, one of the cradles of civilisation in the world, and the commencement of agriculture in the region.

Cultural Landscape of Bisya and Salut and its archeological remains: The cultural landscape of Bisya and Salut is similar to that of the Tehuacán-Cuicatlán Valley in the sense that both sites bear evidence of the evolution of human settlements in a region since very ancient times. Nevertheless, the case of the Valley attests human settlement in an arid zone where struggle for water was the most critical difficulty, which allowed for the development of important technologies persisting up to the present time.