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World Heritage Convention

Decision 44 COM 8B.44
Petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea (Russian Federation)

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Documents WHC/21/44.COM/8B and WHC/21/44.COM/INF.8B1,
  2. Inscribes Petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea, Russian Federation, on the World Heritage List on the basis of criterion (iii);
  3. Takes note of the following provisional Statement of Outstanding Universal Value:

    Brief synthesis

    The Petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea are located in the north-west of Russia in the Republic of Karelia and include two component parts located 300 km from each other: the petroglyphs of Lake Onega in the south-east part of the Republic of Karelia and those of the White Sea in the north-east part.

    The petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea represent one of the largest independent centres of Neolithic rock art in Europe, dating to between circa 4,500 BC to 3,500 BC. The property comprises a total of over 4,500 petroglyphs concentrated in 33 sites within the two component parts, including a total of 22 sites at Lake Onega and 11 located at the White Sea. The petroglyphs are also associated with more than 100 archaeological sites including settlements, camp sites and one burial ground dated as contemporary with the rock art.

    The rock art at Lake Onega mostly represents birds, symbols, half human and half animal figures, as well as figures interpreted as demon, burbot and otter, while the petroglyphs of the White Sea are mostly composed of carvings depicting boats, sea and forest hunting, scenes including their related equipment as well as animal and human footprints.

    The emergence of the petroglyphs dates back to the Neolithic, witnessing the transition from hunter-gathering communities to a more sedentary society. The petroglyphs attest to the beliefs and lifestyle of the hunter-fisher-gatherers over a period of 600-800 years, speak of the high point of these cultures that used these rock art centres as meeting places and show significant artistic qualities and creativity of the Stone Age artists.

     There are clear similarities between the rock art production of Lake Onega and the White Sea especially in the rock carving technique, rock art compositions, in the scenes depicted and their style, as well as in the locations chosen for carving horizontal motifs on the rock surface. They were produced by a population of the same Neolithic culture; excavated archaeological material attests that part of the Pit-Comb Ware population of Lake Onega gradually migrated to the White Sea by way of navigation.

    The Petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea include representations of waterfowl including mainly swans that are unique in the rock art of Northern Fennoscandia and in Europe, and were identified as the one of the earliest manifestations of the rock carvings in the region.

    Criterion (iii): The Petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea and the related archaeological sites are an exceptional testimony of the lifestyle and beliefs of the Pit-Comb Ware culture population in the Neolithic, providing a unique source of data and representing a coherent image of the Neolithic culture period in North Fennoscandia.


    The nominated property rests on the exceptional character of the petroglyphs testifying to the lifestyle and beliefs of the Neolithic cultures present in Northern Europe. The nominated component parts and their buffer zones are of an adequate size to guarantee a comprehensive illustration of the Outstanding Universal Value. Common or close themes in both components of the property demonstrate mutual influence as well as chronological closeness and complementarity in illustrating the northern Neolithic period in an exceptional manner. Cultural layers from the Mesolithic period up to Middle Ages are preserved in the vicinity of the petroglyphs.

    The boundaries of the property have been established according to the legal framework in place in the Russian Federation and on the basis of interdisciplinary research and includes archaeological sites that contribute to the Outstanding Universal Value of the property.

    The rock art carvings are well-preserved, and, at Lake Onega, their setting has survived almost untouched, which is crucial for the understanding and appreciation of the property.


    The Petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea include preserved representations of Neolithic rock art in their natural landscape. At Lake Onega, the landscape has not been affected by major changes nor by human activities since the Neolithic period. The unspoiled conditions of the setting of the rock art sites at Lake Onega facilitate an understanding of the prehistoric setting and context of the rock art, particularly its location at the lake shoreline, and the connection it makes with different elements of the landscape. On the other hand, the landscape of the rock carvings at the White Sea has been partly altered due to land uplift, the White Sea Canal, two hydroelectric stations, and connected dams.

    Protection and management requirements

    The first level of protection is the territory of the monument (Federal Law No. 73-FZ and Regional Law No. ZRK-883): in the Russian legislation each monument has its territory on which the physical protection of the monument is ensured. Two types of actions are allowed: physical protection of the monument, and scientific research. Federal Law No. 73- FZ represents the main legal instrument governing the process of preservation of historical and cultural heritage in the Russian Federation. At the regional level, the Law of the Republic of Karelia 06.06.2005 regulates the conservation, development, promotion, and state protection of the cultural heritage sites of the peoples of the Russian Federation in the Republic of Karelia.

    The second level of protection is the monument protection zone (orders issued by Chairman of the Government of the Republic of Karelia No. 518-r of 05.09.1996 and 163.03-r of 25.03.1998). These zones protect both rock art sites and any other associated archaeological sites as well as the surrounding landscape. A third level of protection is the specially protected natural area, i.e., the Muromsky Landscape Reserve of Regional Significance. A final level of protection is applied to lands of historical and cultural significance: all economic activity may be prohibited therein as well as on lands with monuments and archaeological sites that are the subject of research and conservation, in accordance with the Land Code of the Russian Federation.

    The boundaries of the protection zones for the buffer zones include the heritage related to the petroglyphs located at Lake Onega and the White Sea and were delimited and approved in the 1990s. The additional protection is provided by means of two Remarkable Places of Federal Significance cultural heritage sites established for both component parts.

    Several public bodies are involved in the management of the nominated property including the Department for the Cultural Heritage Protection of the Republic of Karelia under the authority of the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Karelia, the Belomorsky Regional Museum of Local Lore, the Directorate of Specially Protected Natural Areas of Regional Significance of the Republic of Karelia and the Belomorsky and the Pudozhsky Municipal districts.

    At Lake Onega, the Directorate of Specially Protected Natural Territories of Regional Importance of the Republic of Karelia and the Republican Centre for State Protection of Cultural Heritage Sites are currently managing the proposed sites while the sites of the White Sea are managed by the Municipality of Belomorsk and the Petroglyphs Belomorsky District Local Lore Museum.

    Currently, an overarching body for the management of the Petroglyphs of Lake Onega and the White Sea, the Regional Museum of the Karelian Petroglyphs is to be established at Petrozavodsk along with the Coordination Council on the management of the property by the end of 2021. They will be in charge of the management of the nominated property and will coordinate the work of its branches at Lake Onega and the White Sea. In the meantime, the Department for Cultural Heritage Protection of the Republic of Karelia is in charge of the coordination with communities, private sector, experts and scholars and the federal, regional and local authorities.

  4. Recommends that the State Party give consideration to the following:
    1. Completing the process of legal designation of the component parts in the State Code of Especially Valuable Properties of Cultural Heritage of the Peoples of the Russian Federation by 1 February 2022,
    2. Completing the process of establishing a centralized management system to ensure coordinated and integrated management of the two component parts,
    3. Finalizing the approval of the Management Plan with a set timeframe for policies and measures to be implemented,
    4. Establishing a conservation plan and a monitoring programme for the petroglyphs, dedicated to the systematic monitoring of the conservation of the property;
  5. Also recommends that the State Party give consideration to the following:
    1. Setting up an adequate documentation system and developing an operational and up-to-date database for the property to ensure monitoring of its conservation,
    2. Developing a specific Tourism Strategy for the property in the course of the Strategy of Social and Economic Development of the Republic of Karelia and the Tourism Strategy of the Republic of Karelia,
    3. Developing a Risk Preparedness Plan for the property in order to address the environmental pressures, and developing measures responding to potential natural disasters. This is particularly urgent at the Pavilion of Besovy Sledki and at Zalavruga to ensure their long-term conservation,
    4. Submitting all projects planned at the property and its buffer zones to an overall Heritage Impact Assessment, to ascertain whether they and the expected increase of tourism could have adverse impacts on the component parts and on their setting, particularly where it is intact, as at Lake Onega,
    5. Developing an ongoing programme of research within a research framework and linked with conservation strategies;
  6. Requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 February 2022, the revised maps of the modified boundaries of the component parts of the series and of their respective buffer zones, as well as the decision establishing the two Remarkable Places of Federal Significance covering the buffer zones, and also requests the State Party to submit, by 1 December 2022, a report on the implementation of the above-mentioned recommendations for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 46th session.
    Decision Code
    44 COM 8B.44
    Inscriptions on the World Heritage List
    States Parties 1
    Decisions adopted at the 44th extended session of the World Heritage Committee
    Context of Decision