Heritage in Our Hands:

UNESCO 50 Years Later

By: Ashley Fuchs, Cindy Srnka, Jackson Clark, Sarah Linn and Douglas Smit

Originally Published in 2022

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Photo of Jackson Clark, Ashley Fuchs, and Cindy Srnka examining a shell.
Jackson Clark, Ashley Fuchs, and Cindy Srnka examine a Spondylus Shell; photo by Colleen Connolly.

Each year, the Student Exhibition Program selects three Penn undergraduates to curate a new exhibition based around a theme. This year, interns Cindy Srnka, Ashley Fuchs, and Jackson Clark worked closely with Drs. Sarah Linn and Anne Tiballi from Academic Engagement, curatorial adviser Dr. Douglas Smit, and the Exhibitions team to create an exhibition focusing on the 50th anniversary of the 1972 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Convention. There are now more than 1,000 World Heritage Sites. For the exhibition Heritage in Our Hands: UNESCO 50 Years Later the student curators selected four case studies and representative objects from the collections to explore how local and global perspectives come together at World Heritage Sites.

Qhapaq Ñan (Inka Road), Ashley Fuchs

The Qhapaq Ñan—“Royal Road” in Quechua— stretches nearly 19,000 miles across Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. Inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2014, the Qhapaq Ñan represents a complex transnational site in which local, national, and international interests converge and complement one another on issues related to the road’s management, preservation, and use. Inka officials, traders, and armies traveled along the vast road system since the 1400s CE, building upon pre-Inka infrastructure to create the largest road network in the Americas. We chose two objects to represent the road: a llama-shaped offering vessel paying homage to local transportation and a Spondylus shell harvested form the waters of Peru and Ecuador indicating the road’s centrality to commercial and religious life. Andean peoples placed such objects on apachetas, sacred piles of stones built along the Qhapaq Ñan, to ensure safe passage—a practice that continues today.

Two women on the Inka Road.
Women walking on the Qhapaq Ñan (Inka Road); photo by Michal Knitl/Shutterstock

Ban Chiang, Thailand, Jackson Clark

The Ban Chiang archaeological site was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1992. This site hosts a wealth of evidence for complex social and technical evolution in the region, marking it as “type-site” for scholarly study of emerging agricultural societies. The UNESCO designation has brought many changes to the site, namely an emerging tourist industry. By working with international organizations and the Thai government, Ban Chiang residents have placed local interests at the forefront of site operations and management. Local people staff the site museum and sell traditionally painted pottery. Ban Chiang is represented in the exhibition with two archaeological finds: a ceramic crucible that early metalworkers used to work molten metal and bronze bangles that likely adorned the ankles of a small child. These objects reflect the technological innovations at Ban Chiang that both helped it reach UNESCO World Heritage status and empowered local residents to use past traditions to shape present heritage.

The Ahwar (Marshlands) of Southern Iraq, Cindy Srnka

The Ahwar (Marshlands) of Southern Iraq is a unique blend of cultural and natural heritage including three archaeological sites and four wetland marsh areas. Added to the World Heritage List in 2016, the Ahwar contains ancient Sumerian cities and settlements and biodiverse habitats of the Central Marshes. The Arab al-Ahwar (Arabs of the Marshlands) and wildlife that inhabit the area have coexisted for thousands of years, blending tradition with modernity. Water now ceases to flow from the Tigris and Euphrates due to dams built and controlled by bordering countries. With weakened water flow, seawater pushes back freshwater rivers, strangling wildlife and human settlements that can no longer survive on these banks. The poor quality and scarcity of water has forced the relocation of local people, endangering wildlife, and affecting the entire ecosystem. The Ahwar has become reliant on the actions of other nation-states and interests outside its borders. It therefore represents the complexity and difficulty of site management within the guidelines of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Black vessel in the shape of a llama.
Llama effigy vessel from Peru.
Museum Object Number(s): 43330

A clay jar with carvings on it.
This jar from the ancient city of Ur in southern Iraq depicts the wildlife that used to be abundant in the wetland marshes.
Museum Object Number(s): B15767

Liverpool, Ashley Fuchs

Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City site, added to the World Heritage List in 2004 for its rich commercial history, has been a source of enormous controversy between UNESCO and Liverpool City Council. Ships traded cotton, timber, and luxury goods at the historic dock lands and participated in the transatlantic slave trade as the city grew into a major trading center. Recently, the City of Liverpool has targeted the historic docks for urban renewal and reinvestment. In 2021, the City Council voted to build a new stadium for the Everton Football Club on the site of the historic docks. Although this will impact preexisting architecture, the City Council outlined an extensive cultural revitalization plan that includes museum building and preservation projects. UNESCO staunchly disagreed and delisted the site—the third site ever removed from the World Heritage List.

Liverpool docks.
Liverpool docks. Credit: sas/stock.adobe.com
An artisan painting pottery.
Artisan painting pottery at Ban Chiang; photo by gan chaonan/Shutterstock.

Ashley Fuchs, C22, is a double major in Classical Studies and Political Science; Cindy Srnka, C24, is a major in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations; Jackson Clark, C22, is a double major in Classical Studies and Anthropology; Sarah Linn, Ph.D., is Interim Director of Academic Engagement, and Douglas Smit, Ph.D., is a Senior Fellow in the Department of Anthropology.

Cite This Article

Fuchs, Ashley, Srnka, Cindy, Clark, Jackson, Linn, Sarah and Smit, Douglas. "Heritage in Our Hands:." Expedition Magazine 64, no. 1 (June, 2022): -. Accessed July 19, 2024. https://www.penn.museum/sites/expedition/heritage-in-our-hands/

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