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Highlands of Mongol Altai

Date of Submission: 19/12/2014
Criteria: (ii)(iii)(iv)(x)
Category: Mixed
Submitted by:
Mongolian National Commission for UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Tsengel, Ulaan khus, Nogoon nuur soums of Bayan-Ulgii province
Ref.: 5955

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


1. Altai Tavan Bogd National Park

48 54 52.60N  88 4 33.06E

2. Siilkhem mountain National Park, Part "A"

49 25 59.89N 88 33 28.53E

3. Siilkhem mountain National Park, Part "B"

49 49 21.42N 89 44 56.84E

The Mongolian Altai Mountains constitute a major and central part of the Altai mountain range located at the junction of Central Asia and Siberia. The Mongol Altai has many summits around or even exceeding 4000 meters above sea level (m.a.sl.) and stretches for some 900 kilometres from the north-western part of the country to the south, through the territories of Bayan-Ulgii and Khovd provinces. Over 20 peaks are capped with eternal snow in the Mongol Altai Mountain Range. These include Altai Tavan Bogd, the highest peak of Mongolia at 4,374 m.a..s.l., Munkh Khairkhan (4,204 m.a.s.l), Sutai Khairkhan (4,226 m.a.s.l) and Tsambagarav khairkhan (4,195 m.a.s.l.). Towards the southeast, the Mongol Altai Mountain Range gets smaller and transitions into the Govi-Altai mountain range. In the Chinese and Kazakh parts of the Altai, the slopes in the montane and sub-alpine belts are covered in forests, whereas the Mongolian Altai has a much drier climate. The high ridges of the Altai descend to large basins and dry steppes, that extend eastward across vast areas dominated by great inland seas in ancient times.

One of the proposed three serial property areas, the Altai Tavan Bogd National Park covers some 636,200 ha, located in the north-western tip of Mongolia along the border with China and Russia. The heart of Altai Tavan Bogd consists of five sister peaks which are the highest mountain peaks in Mongolia and which give the park its name. The national park includes the beautiful ancient lakes of Khoton, Khurgan, and Dayan and is home to a wide range of species such as the argali sheep, ibex, red deer, snow cocks, and golden eagles. The National Park embodies the special attributes of high mountains, including but not limited to icy crystal rivers, vast mountain valleys and high altitude steppe landscapes of breath-taking beauty.

The second proposed component, Siilkhem mountain National Park, is located along Mongolian-Russian border and covers the Mongolian part of the Siilkhem Mountains (Sailughem in Russian language), which stretch northeast from the Altai Tavan Bogd and Ukok plateaus towards the western extremity of the Sayan Mountains. Their average elevation is 2,500 to 2,750m. The snow-line runs at 2,000m on the northern side and at 2,400m on the southern side and above it the rugged peaks tower up some 3,000m more. The Siilkhem mountain National Park consists of two distinct parts "A" and "B". Part "A" of the national park covers most northern distribution range of Altai Argali while Part "B" is one of most the important prime habitat  of snow leopard. 

The Altai represents the most complete sequence of altitudinal vegetation zones in central Siberia, from steppe, forest-steppe, mixed forest, subalpine vegetation to alpine vegetation. The site is also an important habitat for endangered animal species such as the snow leopard. Therefore, the World Heritage Committee in 1998 inscribed three sites in the Russian Altai jointly on the World Heritage List as Golden Mountains of Altai for its rich biodiversity and as the global centre of origin of montane flora of northern Asia under natural criterion (x). One of these three sites is the Ukok Quiet Zone on the Ukok plateau, which contiguous with the proposed three areas. Through its geographical location, the nominated areas can be fully complementary to the existing property "Golden Mountains of Altai". Because the proposed serial extension represents neighbouring, yet distinct ecosystems, dominated by dry steppe with patches of forests it would add to the representation of the complex landscape mosaic and corresponding biodiversity.

The Altai is not only famous for its rich biodiversity but contains rich overlay of different cultures from the late Palaeolithic through the Turkic period. This is represented by thousands of burial mounds, among them the Scythian burial tombs, hundreds of standing stones including Deer Stones and Turkic image stones and hundreds of monumental structures of khirigsuur type. Both nominated areas can fully represent this rich cultural diversity. The existing World Heritage site, the Petroglyphic Complexes of the Mongolian Altai is within Altai Tavan Bogd National Park and in the buffer zone of Siilkhem mountain National Park. In addition, the frozen burial complex in Olon nuur, Siilkhem mountain National Park which was discovered in 2006 by archaeologists D. Tseveendorj (Mongolia), H. Parzinger (Germany), V.I. Molodin (Russia) of Mongolian-Russian-German joint expedition. The partially mummified corpse of a warrior, which was found undisturbed and preserved in ice, provided important insight. This kurgan contained one of the latest burials of the Pazyryk Culture known today and dates to the early 3rd century BC, as confirmed by the finds as well as dendro-chronological analysis.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The cultural value and natural landscape of nominated areas explicitly represent a striking interconnection between the larger specific natural landscape and rich cultural tradition of nomadic people going back at least to the upper Palaeolithic period. The way in which rich tangible and intangible cultural heritage has been closely integrated with the natural landscape of specific formation and beauty of the area is considered to be one of most significant cultural landscape.

Criterion (x): Different landscape types of the Highlands of Mongol Altai facilitated creation and conservation of Altai biodiversity and rich endemic organisms. The property would enable to expand the rare and endangered species’ existing habitat areas. Mongol Altai is the very important habitat for rare and rarest animal species such as argali sheep, ibex, different cats, including endangered species of snow leopard and lynx of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science and conservation.

Criterion (ii): The Mongol Altai cultural landscape is vivid example for intensive interchange of human values in the form of cultural, art, economic and political exchanges between peoples of different regions and nations from both nomadic and sedentary civilizations. In this sense, the Scythian burial complexes have very specific and explicit importance. Researchers acknowledge the style, design, structure and artefacts of these kurgans were made by Scythian people; they also reveal the influence of foreign sedentary and nomadic cultures such as ancient Persian Achaemenid Empire, Greece and Northern parts of ancient China.

Criterion (iii): The Highlands of Mongol Altai meets this criterion in terms of following two senses:
1. This cultural landscape bears a vivid testimony to the unique Scythian burial culture that flourished in the Eurasian steppe during the 1st millennium BCE, within a cultural area of Central Asia including the Scythian frozen burial tradition of the Pazyryk culture. Frozen kurgans and the artefacts contained in them bear invaluable evidence to shed light on life style and social tradition on the Scythians of the Altai Mountains – Nomadic Horsemen, who spread their tradition across Central Asia as far as the Black Sea. Thus, Mongolian Altai landscape bears a unique testimony to the now-vanished Scythian burial cultural tradition and customs.
2. The proposed property represents an exceptional testimony to living nomadic civilization which has been developed by the Scythian period nomads in the Altai and its surrounding landscapes and transmitted as traditional culture to the nomads who presently live within and around the Mongol Altai. It lies at the origin of nomadic pastoral life style and culture around the Altai which is still practiced by among Mongolian, Kazakh and Turkic people as a living cultural tradition.

Criterion (iv): Mongolian Altai cultural landscape and its associated heritage sites bear an exceptional testimony to the existence of human beings in Altai Mountains since ancient times to the present. This is demonstrated by the monuments, archaeological and cultural sites left by people going back to the Palaeolithic period through the Bronze Age and by successive nomads and their empires, including Scythians, Hunnu, Turkic and Uighur people, and Mongols. The amazing combination of archaeological remains and intangible cultural expressions in the Mongolian Altai from different periods of the history of humanity in the last three millennia has given rise to a unique cultural landscape.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

There is plenty of research and archaeological evidence underpinning the exceptional importance of the landscape of the Mongol Altai. The archaeological sites in this area have been professionally excavated, mapped, as documented in many scientific publications by the Institute of Archaeology at the Academy of Sciences of Mongolia and others. By virtue of their isolation and the ongoing nomadic culture with its longstanding tradition of worshipping and respecting nature, the proposed area have suffered from little adverse human impact and most of cultural monuments and sites remain in their natural and intact state.

This serial proposal includes the full array of its outstanding cultural and natural values and attributes. The components represent an integration of their natural values and long standing cultural traditions. Although separated physically, there is a cohesive relationship between these components which are all located in the same geographical zone and belong to the same historic cultural group. The proposed cluster sites are protected at both national and provincial level by the specific laws and included in the status of National Park or Special Protected Area.

Since the very beginning of establishing the Altai Tavan Bogd and Siilkhem mountain Natural Parks, the principle of preserving and protecting its original pristine state has been adhered to. The site comprises its ecological system and natural landscapes, which have not been subject to any human impacts throughout their known history. There are no substantial threats to any of proposed units of the mountain landscape. Financial and administrative resources are adequate to ensure long-term protection and management of an area of global significance in terms of both cultural and natural heritage.

Comparison with other similar properties

Currently, the proposed serial property Highlands of Mongol Altai has no direct analogues in the world. Jointly, the proposed areas represent cultural and natural values in an intact and majestic mountain landscape which have been bound together and bear an exceptional testimony to extraordinary tangible and intangible heritage space and sites left by nomadic people of the Altai. This ongoing history goes back to the Paleolithic period through the Bronze Age and successive nomad Empires, including Scythians, Hunnus, Turks, Uigurs, Yenissey Kirgiz, Kidans and Mongols. It is demonstrated by thousands of cultural features and artefacts, including the petroglyphic complexes, burial mounds, deer stones, Turkic image stones and monumental structures of khirigsuur and hundreds of Scythian frozen burial complexes. The Russian Federation submitted the nomination Golden Mountains of Altai which was inscribed as natural serial property on the World Heritage List in 1998.

Also in 2010 China has included the China Altai on the world heritage tentative list, exclusively according to natural criteria. The property Highlands of Mongol Altai is proposed as mixed property embracing not only natural values but tangible and intangible cultural values. Therefore, this mixed property through the inclusion of existing cultural sites of Mongolia has the possibility to be nominated in future in the world heritage list as a potential trans-boundary expansion of the world heritage property of Russian Federation, Golden Mountain of Altai to Mongolia.