Written by Marisol
WAYRA Instituto de Español

COSTA RICA Registers Its First World Heritage Sites

• The “Diquís Pre-ColumbianCacique-lead Settlements with Stone Spheres” are the first set of cultural sites declared World Heritage Sites in the country.

• These sites have an outstanding universal value, given its integrity, authenticity and good condition.

Like orbs hidden in the earth, evoking the purity of its sun and moon and resulting from the cosmogony of our ancestors, these majestic stone spheres are vestiges of wonderful knowledge that is reinterpreted today and have earned a place in geography and culture. They are global legacy of non-Western cultures.

Costa Rican stone spheres —found in four archaeological sites: Finca 6, Batambal, El Silencio, and Grijalva-2, located in Diquís Delta, in the canton of Osa— were declared World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The statement was released on June 23 as part of the XXXVIII meeting of the World Heritage Committee, held in Doha, Qatar.

This site is located to the south of the country and covers four areas of archaeological remains, located in the delta of the river Diquís, estimated to date from the period between 500 and 1500 AD. The site consists of mounds, paved areas, graves, and, particularly, a series of stone spheres from 0.7 to 2.57 meters in diameter, whose manufacture, use, and significance remain largely a mystery to this day.

“The remarkable peculiarity of these areas lies in the perfection of their forms, as well as their number, size and density, and also the fact that they are in their primitive sites. The fact that these vestiges remained buried for centuries under thick layers of sediment can explain their chance of having made ​​it out unharmed from the sacking that the vast majority of Costa Rican archaeological sites have suffered,” announced UNESCO in a statement.

This year, committee country members reviewed 40 nomination files submitted by countries in all regions of the world; all with outstanding features.

According to the President, Luis Guillermo Solís Rivera, for Costa Rica, the declaration is a great privilege, but also a challenge as a country. “The cultural and archaeological heritage of a people is essential, not only because it represents a particular moment in its history, but because it is an undeniable foundation of its memory, a mirror through which we can look at the greatness of our past, the intelligence and value of those who came before us and who made our place on this earth possible. I celebrate this recognition of our pre-Columbian cultures that left us the legacy of its greatness with great joy and pride,” he said.


Unique Pre-Columbian Sites in the World

The report of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) considered that the uniqueness of Diquís stone spheres sites was demonstrated from comprehensive comparative analysis.

The state of integrity and authenticity was also assessed positively. According to the opinion of experts, the set of sites is an adequate representation of the cacique-lead societies of Diquís Delta, as well as an exceptional testimony of the complex political, social and productive structures that characterized the pre-Columbian hierarchical societies.

For her part, the Minister of Culture and Youth, Elizabeth Fonseca, recognized the value of this statement for the country and indicated that, so far, there had been no recognition to archaeological sites located in tropical areas, where huge architecture was not developed; she also said it to be a big responsibility “for further research, generate identification and preservation of the heritage area.” Fonseca said that, on a recent visit to the area, she proved that the inhabitants of Osa, “are proud of the heritage that belongs to them and that they have been able to defend and care for many years, even when the state had no presence in that area. Now, the National Museum of Costa Rica has a site museum that Costa Ricans must know of and learn to value the heritage that belongs to us all,” she said.

At present, the National Museum has prepared a Management Plan for the archaeological sites of Diquís Delta. It consists in a great challenge in which specific goals that must be met in various areas are established, such as: conservation, research, cultural management, community participation, infrastructure, and management of the sites.

On this historic milestone for the country, the director of the National Museum, Christian Kandler said: “In order to achieve a responsible management of this unique heritage, it is necessary to allocate budgetary and human resources for the management of these sites, meet the proposed development of trails and visitor services, as well as outreach activities.”

A central element is that, with the Declaration, the country took the commitment to mankind of ensuring the conservation of the sites and areas in optimum conditions; therefore, the actions proposed by the specialists must initiate as soon as possible, as there are some areas that are not in good condition.”


Benefits for the Area

The southern part of our country is one of the areas that require economic and social development; therefore, the declaration is expected to bring benefits. About that, the Minister of Tourism, Wilhelm von Breymann, said: “With great pleasure, we welcome this important news for our country, which will benefit, directly, the southern region, so positively affecting the positioning of this important tourist region. In ICT, we have taken on the task of promoting this destination, by highlighting the so characteristic cultural and natural components of this place, strengthening its competitiveness in the domestic market and, in turn, being a generator channel of economy for residents of this region.”

UNESCO stipulates that World Heritage sites must be seen and treated as the property of all the inhabitants of the planet, in which the participation of the community plays a leading role.

“With the registration, it is sought to raise awareness of local and national population and of the international community as to the importance for humanity to ensuring the effective conservation of these assets, for the benefit of present and future generations,” said Pilar Alvarez-Laso, UNESCO director and representative Cluster Office for Central America and Mexico.

For its part, the recommendation of ICOMOS for the State of Costa Rica (last April) was to maintain and increase future measures designed to promote awareness, preservation, and enjoyment of this unique heritage, in a careful and responsible way. One of the main commitments made by the State of Costa Rica is to conduct a heritage impact study in order to have a detailed analysis of the factors that could negatively affect the future of the four sites declared World Heritage and design mitigation strategies.

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