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Poverty Point Impressing Heritage Application

The process to have Poverty Point named as a World Heritage site remains full-steam ahead, officials said. Diana Greenlee, station archaeologist at Poverty Point State Historic Site in West Carroll Parish, said everything is running smoothly. "We are on schedule," Greenlee said. "We have submitted the draft nomination, through the National Park Service Office of International Affairs, to the UNESCO World Heritage Centre in Paris for a technical review." Greenlee said that review focuses mainly on the completeness of the nomination. "For example, 'have we addressed all of the critical components of a nomination?'" Greenlee said.

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Nature Wonder Grand CanyonThe U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's World Heritage List includes fewer than 1,000 sites, and among them are the Grand Canyon, the Taj Mahal in India, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, the Great Wall of China and the Statue of Liberty. Poverty Point is a vast complex of earthen mounds and ridges built by inhabitants more than 3,500 years ago.

The structures, including an integrated complex of earthen mounds, enormous concentric ridges, and a large plaza, may be the largest hunter-gatherer settlement that ever existed. Fran Hamilton, an assistant Poverty Point Station archaeologist, has said Poverty Point is one of the oldest communities in the United States. Next to Mason Bayou, it was in its heyday in 1700 B.C.

For comparison, Native Americans were living as hunters and gatherers at Poverty Point more than 500 years before the Trojan War, 300 years before King Tut became pharaoh of Egypt and about the same time that, driven by famine, some Hebrews followed Abraham's great-grandson Joseph, son of Israel (also called Jacob), into Egypt.

Poverty Point was discovered as an archaeological site in the 1950s when archaeologist James Ford noticed what appeared to be earthworks when he was looking at an aerial photo of the area taken in the 1930s.

The photo showed a plaza, several mounds, distinct ridges and a road, Hamilton said. To date, archaeologists have only excavated about 2 percent of the site. What they know is that this was a major hub for Native Americans. It was an area incredibly rich in wildlife, fish, nuts and other foods.

Mound A, the largest on the site, is the second largest earthwork in the U.S. Relics unearthed have included beads, soapstone bowls, figurines and cooking balls. The cooking balls predate anything else like them found in the U.S., Hamilton said.

"And so cooking balls found elsewhere are referred to as Poverty Point objects because they were first discovered at the Poverty Point site," Hamilton said.Cane casts discovered on site have lead archaeologists to surmise that cane and mud huts were used as shelters.

Architectural Wonder Taj Mahal
Architectural Wonder Taj Mahal

Questions Remain

What they don't know about the Poverty Point site is exactly who lived there, what it was called, what was traded and why it was built in the swamp. The soil is very acidic and so not a single human bone has been found at the site. Though most Native Americans in and around Louisiana believe they have a deep connection to these natives, they don't have any historical information.

Assuming that it is determined to be complete, Greenlee said the draft will next be forwarded to the U.S. Federal Interagency Panel on World Heritage. "They will make the final recommendation in November as to whether or not the United States should proceed with the nomination," Greenlee said. "If they recommend that we proceed, then we will have the document printed and bound prior to its January 2013 submission to the World Heritage Centre."

Greenlee said she expects a group of experts to visit the site next summer to make an evaluation. "They will evaluate the site for its 'Outstanding Universal Value' and to see how well it is managed and protected," Greenlee said. "The experts will forward their recommendation to the World Heritage Committee, which will decide to inscribe, defer, refer, or decline at their meeting in the late spring of 2014."

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