Tak’alik Ab’aj Inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site

This accomplishment is the result of the formal efforts initiated before UNESCO in 2021 to achieve World Heritage Status.

by Astrid Luna
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Guatemala City, by Brenda Larios -AGN- Guatemala has added a new World Heritage site after the Tak’alik Ab’aj National Archaeological Park, located in El Asintal, Retalhuleu, was inscribed on the Representative List of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization -UNESCO- on September 18. The inscription was announced during the extended 45th Session of the World Heritage Committee, held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. 

In a message, President Alejandro Giammattei stated: “For Guatemalans, Tak’alik Ab’aj is the origin of our history. The pre-Hispanic city witnessed the transition from the Olmec culture to the birth of the Maya culture, gathering a series of Outstanding Universal Values that now belong not only to Guatemalans but to the whole world.” 

Registration

This process began in 2021 with formal efforts before UNESCO to achieve World Heritage status. The State of Guatemala declared Tak’alik Ab’aj Cultural Heritage of the Nation in 2002. This site has documented 1,700 years of continuous history, spanning from 800 B.C. to 900 A.D. Its archaeological findings have allowed for the preservation of significant Mesoamerican events.

The Guatemalan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mario Búcaro, highlighted, “The inscription of this new World Heritage site once again positions our pre-Hispanic history at the highest podium of universal culture. It also showcases Guatemala as a strategic point for cultural exchange, which will further strengthen our relationships with other nations,”

History 

One of the most relevant archaeological findings of Tak’alik Ab’aj, so far in Mesoamerica, is the offering of The Maidens located in the tomb of King K’utz Chman, which consists of six figurines sculpted in clay representing the four cardinal points and the daily movement of the sun from its rising in the east to its setting in the west.

According to the Minister of Culture and Sports, Felipe Aguilar, “The fact that Tak’alik Ab’aj is now listed as a new element of universal value pays tribute to our founding ancestors, as those who thousands of years ago ruled the Guatemalan shoreline, paved the way we walk today, and gave us identity and a sense of belonging.”

 

Unesco Representative

Patricio Zambrano, representative of the Unesco mission in Guatemala, said:

“Representing a masterpiece of human creative genius, witnessing exchanges of human values, providing an outstanding and remarkable testimony of living tradition, being an eminently significant example of construction and architectural design and its direct association with living traditions, are the Outstanding Universal Values that Tak’alik Ab’aj gathers and that were convincing evidence for the inscription as World Heritage of Humanity.”

A decisive fact in the declaration of world significance, which has demonstrated the fulfillment of the commitments made by Guatemala to UNESCO, was the restoration and culmination of the construction of the Archaeological Museum Caracol del Tiempo “José Luis Ralda González” on September 6, which will display the archaeological findings of Tak’alik Ab’aj to nationals and foreigners.

Testimony of the cultural transition that led to the origin of the Mayan culture, Tak’alik Ab’aj is the first World Heritage of the country to be granted by UNESCO after a formal application process initiated by the Government of the President of Guatemala, Dr. Alejandro Giammattei, as was the case of Holy Week inscribed by the international organization on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in November 2022.

Other declarations

The World Heritage declarations of Tikal National Park in Flores, Petén, and the colonial city of La Antigua Guatemala in Sacatepéquez in 1979, as well as the Quiriguá de Los Amates Archaeological Park in Izabal in 1981, were granted as an urgent safeguarding measure.

Tak’alik Ab’aj is now part of the prestigious World Heritage List, ensuring its protection and preservation for future generations. It demonstrates to the world that Guatemalans are worthy heirs of a legacy of more than three thousand years of cultural richness.

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