More new (but ancient) additions to UNESCO World Heritage

This is the last of three posts delving into 2021 new additions to the UNESCO World Heritage list. The focus this time is on ancient sites and relevant publications in the University Library which support further investigation.

Settlement and Artificial Mummification of the Chinchorro Culture in the Arica and Parinacota Region: Most people would associate the death ritual of mummification with ancient Egypt. However, 7000 years ago (2000 years earlier than the Egyptians) the Chinchorro people of northern Chile were mummifying their dead, and this culture has now been recognised by inscription on the World Heritage List. The Chinchorro mummies were first brought to world attention by the German archaeologist Max Uhle in the early 20th century.  More recently, the Chilean anthropologist Bernardo Arriaza has devoted more than 30 years to researching them. His work has furthered our knowledge and helped to ensure that the culture has been validated as internationally significant. His 1995 book Beyond death: the Chinchorro mummies of ancient Chile (673:35.b.95.13) details almost 300 examples.

Whereas the Egyptians reserved mummification for the elite of society, the mummies unearthed in Chile demonstrate that people of all ages and classes might be preserved. Many of the Chinchorro mummies feature clay masks, black hair sewn on to the head and red or black pigment painted on to the body. Degradation of some mummies has been observed and investigated in recent years – the conclusion is that it is caused by increased humidity in the area as a result of climate change. It is to be hoped that the UNESCO listing will boost future efforts to protect these ancient artefacts.

The Lower German Limes and The Danube Limes (Western Segment) [limes was the Latin word for path/boundary] : A 550 km section of the border line of the Roman Empire, the Upper German-Raetian Limes running through Germany, was already inscribed on the World Heritage list as part of a transnational listing (entitled Frontiers of the Roman Empire) together with Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall in the UK. Now two more sections of the Limes either side of this have been added to the list.

First, to the north, the Lower German Limes follows the course of the river Rhine for about 400 km from south of Bonn into the Netherlands where it continues along the old northern branch of the Rhine to Katwijk on the North Sea coast. A representative selection of 44 archaeological sites where the Roman military were positioned has been recognised by UNESCO.

Map by René Ployer, Marinus Polak and Ricarda Schmidt via Wikimedia Commons, Germania Inferior to the west was Roman

Over the years archaeologists have extensively excavated many Roman sites in this area and much has been published. One of the key places, about midway, is Xanten where there was a major settlement called Colonia Ulpia Traiana and where today a large archaeological park is a major tourist attraction. The RömerMuseum there is currently playing host to an exhibition presenting the latest research on the Lower Rhine Limes. Since the early 1990s the archaeological park has published a scholarly series, Xantener Berichte, which has considered in depth finds such as coins, pottery and wall paintings as well as aspects such as military equipment or trade or transport.

LVR-Archäologischer Park Xanten, picture by Raimond Spekking & Elke Wetzig via Wikimedia Commons

The Danube Limes (Western Segment) covers an almost 600 km stretch of the river Danube from Bavaria, passing through the cities of Regensburg and Passau, to Austria, continuing on through Linz and Vienna, and then on to a site to the east of Bratislava in Slovakia. As with the more northerly sections this whole area has been the subject of much excavation and research, particularly shown in the series Der römische Limes in Österreich, published since 1900 by the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

Map covering most of the Danube Limes (Western Segment) by Ziegelbrenner via Wikimedia Commons

The beginnings of present-day Vienna go back to the Roman legionary camp of Vindobona, established on the Danube to protect the border of the empire, with several thousand soldiers serving there and a population of many more civilians to support them. Excavations in the centre of the city when possible have revealed extensive remains, for example barracks on the site of Judenplatz: Die römischen Kasernen im Legionslager Vindobona: die Ausgrabungen am Judenplatz in Wien in den Jahren 1995-1998 (S950.b.201.4004-4005).

At the time of the Romans, Carnuntum, to the east of Vindobona, was a larger and more important settlement and lay on the route for the transport of amber. As with Xanten on the Lower German Limes, it has been possible to excavate this area comprehensively as it does not lie under a built-up city. Today there is an archaeological park there with remains and reconstructions. A catalogue search reveals many research publications based around Carnuntum. One general work to highlight is Legionslager Carnuntum: Ausgrabungen 1968-1977 (S607.b.90.36m, 36n).

Carnuntum, picture by Wokrie via Wikimedia Commons

An important international archaeological conference, now called the Limes Congress, has twice taken place in Carnuntum, in 1955 and 1986. The 25th Limes Congress will take place in August 2022 in Nijmegen.

In the future the remaining eastern section of the Danube Limes may well be inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list as it is on the tentative lists which is the first step of the process.

Katharine Dicks

Further reading


  • Cultura Chinchorro: las momias artificiales más antiguas del mundo (online, Spanish translation of Arriaza’s Beyond death)
  • Chapter 3 of Handbook of South American archaeology (online)
  • Chapter 10 of Mummies, Disease and Ancient Cultures (online)

Lower German Limes

Danube Limes

  • Der Donaulimes in der Spätantike und im Frühmittelalter (C215.c.7173)
  • Der römische Limes in Österreich: Führer zu den archäologischen Denkmälern (2000.8.4040)

Limes in general

  • The Roman world edited by John Wacher (online, chapter 8 on mainland Europe frontiers by Valerie Maxfield)
  • Handbook to Roman legionary fortresses by M.C. Bishop (online)

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