Ohio's UNESCO World Heritage bid on track despite upheaval with the World Heritage Committee
A team of reviewers is expected in Ohio this month to review the United States' proposal to bestow World Heritage status to Ohio's Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks. The bid is moving forward despite disruptions to the process that led to no sites being added to the World Heritage List this year.
The World Heritage Committee meets each summer to vote on proposals from around the world. Except, this summer, that didn't happen.
"Every year, there's a chair of that committee — one country is elected as the chair. For 2022, the chair of the committee was Russia," explains Jennifer Aultman, director of historic sites and museums at Ohio History Connection.
That means Russia would have hosted and chaired the annual meetings in 2022.
"There were a number of countries, including the United States, that requested that Russia could not host the World Heritage Committee meetings given what was happening in Ukraine, and very specifically, because Ukraine has a number of important cultural heritage buildings and sites, including seven World Heritage Sites, and they were all at risk."
Ultimately, the committee didn't meet and is just waiting out Russia's time as chair. Since the committee didn't meet, it also didn't vote on nominated sites that were expected to be approved this year.
"Because those meetings didn't happen, we (also) don't know who the next chair is," Aultman laments. "And we don't know where the meetings will be in 2023, which is when we are hopeful that the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks would be considered by the committee."
Still on track
Aultman says the National Park Service, which leads the bid process for the U.S., tells Ohio to keep going with the process. The NPS expects the committee will get sorted out and meet as usual in 2023.
"That's what we're doing. We're continuing on. We're going through the review process, we're preparing sites," says Aultan. "At some point, we're not actually sure when, we will find out who's going to chair next year and where the the meetings will be."
The other good news is each World Heritage List nomination is reviewed on its own merits. It's not a competition with a limited number of winners selected each year. Aultman expects the committee will just vote next year on the nominations that should have been considered this year, as well as the 2023 nominations.
About the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks
Eight ancient earthworks sites dating to the Hopewell era comprise the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks - the USA's first Ohio-centric bid for UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
The locations are:
- Fort Ancient State Memorial
- Hopewell Culture National Historical Park (5 geographically separate elements)
- Mound City Group
- Hopewell Mound Group
- Seip Earthworks
- High Bank Earthworks
- Hopeton Earthworks
- Newark Earthworks State Memorial
As WVXU previously reported, the eight sites in the bid were selected because, Aultman says, "they meet that bar of being internationally significant. They're the largest, best preserved, have the most integrity to them, can demonstrate that they're authentically from this era that archeologists call the Hopewell culture, which is from about 1,500 to 2,000 years ago."
What is Hopewell Culture?
A popular misconception about the term "Hopewell" is that it refers to a particular tribe or group of Native Americans. In fact, there's nothing Indigenous about the term at all. It comes from the name of a landowner in Ross County who, in the late 1800s, owned land containing what is now the Hopewell Mound Group near Chillicothe. Early archeologists recognized that all of these sites fit a similar pattern which they called "Hopewell."
The term is applied to Indigenous cultures that existed across the Midwest between 200 BCE to 500 CE with Ohio at its epicenter.