June 19, 2006 – The V.I. National Park's Reef Bay petroglyphs are on track to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site, according to park archeologist Ken Wild. UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
"It would be monumental," Wild said of the designation Monday, adding that it would take at least four years to go through, but cautioned it was still in the proposal stage.
The designation World Heritage Site is reserved for "places on earth that are of outstanding universal value to humanity and as such, have been inscribed on the World Heritage List to be protected for future generations to appreciate and enjoy," according to UNESCO's Web site.
World Heritage Sites demonstrate the most outstanding examples of the world's cultural and natural heritage. The Web site also indicates that the prestige of the designation may help protect the sites.
A total of 812 sites in 137 countries carry the designation, including Yellowstone National Park on the U.S. mainland, the Taj Mahal in India, the pyramids in Egypt, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, and the banks of the Seine River in Paris.
Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park on St. Kitts, the Pitons Management Area on St. Lucia, Haiti's National History Park that includes the Citadel, and the Spanish fortifications in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, are also on the list.
Wild said the Reef Bay petroglyphs are important because the rock carvings occur at a geographical point where Amerindians from the Lesser Antilles and those from the Greater Antilles interacted.
He said the proposal now under discussion includes up to 18 similar rock art sites from South America to the Greater Antilles. Wild said Amerindians who lived in the region wrote them all.
"We're tying the threads together," he said.
Wild said the Reef Bay petroglyphs date from about 1000 to 1490 AD. He said that archeologists were able to provide an authoritative chronology thanks to work done at the Cinnamon Bay archeological dig, which concluded several years ago.
"If it wasn't for the archeology at Cinnamon Bay, this wouldn't have happened," he said of the proposed designation.
Without the work done at Cinnamon Bay that proved Amerindians carved the petroglyphs, he said the belief that the work was done by slaves may have continued.
While Reef Bay is located on St. John's south shore and Cinnamon Bay is on the north shore, the two locations are fairly close.
"For a native American, it would be only about an hour's hike," he said.
While the park already protects the Reef Bay petroglyphs, Wild said the World Heritage Site designation could lead the park to include additional protection for the site in its general management plan.
He said that the petroglyphs, accessible only by hiking down the Reef Bay trail from Centerline Road or uphill from the beach, are in good shape. However, Wild said a threat does come from people who rub chalk over them to make them more visible. He said that if that happened enough times, the petroglyphs could degrade.
Wild said the park must get the petroglyphs listed as a National Historic Landmark before it can move the World Heritage Site designation process forward.
He said the designation of the Reef Bay petroglyphs came under discussion at a May meeting of rock art experts held on Guadeloupe.
Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.