What's A UNESCO World Heritage Site Anyway?

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

Detail of a UNESCO protected temple at Angkor, Cambodia

Twenty-six new UNESCO World Heritage Sites were added to the list in 2012, including sites in Chad, Congo, Palau, and Palestine for the first time!

This is REALLY exciting...  if you know what a UNESCO World Heritage Site is.

UNESCO stands for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and is a branch of the United Nations (UN) that recognizes, preserves and protects sites that are an important part of the cultural heritage of the world.

An ancient palace in the UNESCO protected historical city of Gyeongju, South Korea

As of 2012 there are 962 protected sites; 745 cultural, 188 natural, and 29 mixed.

These sites — amongst other things — "represent a masterpiece of human creative genius; or exhibit important developments in architecture, technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design; or bear a unique  testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared; or are areas of exceptional natural beauty; or are outstanding examples representing major stages of earth's history." (from the UNESCO World Heritage website)

As someone who has been lucky enough to visit quite a few of these sites, I can attest to the incredible importance of an organization like this to not only protect these important relics of human history, but to allow them to be safe and accessible to visitors from all over the world.

The UNESCO protected Great Wall of China in Beijing, China


Reads For The Road: The Lost City of Z by David Grann

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,

Everyone loves a swashbuckling, edge-of-your-seat adventure tale, but a true one? Even better! 

One of the greatest exploration mysteries of our time, finding The Lost City of Z has claimed the lives and minds of scientists and adventurers from all over the world. The ancient city — with complex networks of roads, bridges, temples, and treasures — is believed to be hidden deep within the dark, unmapped depths of the Amazon. 

In 1925, the legendary British explorer Percy Fawcett decided to go in search of Z.

He never returned.

I had lost my guide. I was out of food and water. Putting the map back in my pocket, I pressed forward, trying to find my way out, as the branches snapped in my face. Then I saw something moving in the trees. “Who’s there?” I called. There was no reply. A figure fluttered among the branches, and then another. They were coming closer, and for the first time I asked myself, What the hell am I doing here?
— "The Lost City of Z", page 5

In this fascinating biography/detective story/travel tale, journalist David Grann takes readers on the same journey that Fawcett took, following his footsteps into the heart of the Amazon and the history of obsession, discovery, and mystery.

And trust me, the book is better than the recently released film of the same name. 

Book List: Archaeology

by Lindsay Shapka in , , ,

ar.chae.ol.o.gy noun: the study of ancient history or prehistoric peoples and their cultures by analysis of artifacts, inscriptions, monuments, and other such remains – especially those that have been excavated.

The world is starting to feel smaller and smaller. Not long ago, you needed to actually fly to Rome to see the Colosseum. now you can use Google Earth and see it in real time from the comfort of your living room.

The shrinking globe sometimes leaves me longing for the days of Indiana Jones. Days where there was a plethora of things to discover, or a new adventure around the corner. 

Want some reassurance that there is still a whole lot of world out there that hasn’t been seen? Do what I do – pick up the latest copy of Archaeology Magazine

Trust me, this is not dry “textbook-like” material, but stories written by historians, travel journalists, archaeologists, and anthropologists who have discovered something new about a living or past culture. These discoveries are constantly occurring around the world, some even changing the way that we look at our history! 

Mayan ruins, royal tombs, secret passageways, mysterious graves, outlaws, intrigue, secrets, and proof that we still have A LOT to discover.

Get inspired again! Check it out! 

What Is An Inukshuk?

by Lindsay Shapka in ,

An Inukshuk Built by a Hiker in the Rocky Mountains

Meaning “in the likeness of a human” in the Inuit language, these mysterious stone figures are found throughout the circumpolar world (and often on hiking trails in the Canadian Rocky Mountains) and are the oldest, and most important, objects placed by humans upon the vast Arctic landscape. 

Made from un-worked stones found in nature, these monuments are used for communication, survival, and cultural purposes.

The arrangement of the stones is what indicates their purpose. For example, the directions that the arms or legs are pointed could indicate the direction that would allow for safe passage through difficult terrain. An inukshuk with no arms or legs may indicate a food cache, or that good hunting and fish can be found nearby. 

These monuments may also mark a place of respect, or a memorial for a venerated ancestor who knew how to survive on the land in a traditional way. 

Whether you come across a single inukshuk, a sequence of them, or a bunch arranged in a group, you can be sure that you have stumbled upon a very special place and a symbol of an ancient culture. 

Has the Famous Treasure Island Been Found?!

by Lindsay Shapka in ,

Professional Adventurer Shaun Whitehead — if you recognize the name, he recently explored uncharted passages in Egypt’s Great Pyramid of Giza — believes that he has discovered the location of the famous Treasure of Limathe most sought after buried treasure in the history of the world. 

Said to be worth upwards of $250 million, the hoard was stolen by British trader (and part-time pirate) Captain William Thompson in 1820 after a murderous double-cross. He had been entrusted to transport the haul that contained 13 gold religious statues, one life-size Virgin Mary, 200 chests of jewels, 273 swords with jewelled hilts, 1,000 diamonds, solid gold crowns, 150 chalices, and hundreds of gold and silver bars (whew!) from Peru to Mexico. 

Clearly all of that treasure was WAY too tempting for Thompson and he is said to have stashed his plunder on a Pacific Island from where it has never been recovered. Not for lack of trying however, amongst many others, Errol Flynn (an Australian born American actor) and Franklin D. Roosevelt (former president of the United States) both tried to find the treasure in their lifetimes and failed. 

Credited by many as the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure IslandWhitehead and his team will be heading to Cocos Island, a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site located approximately 350 miles off the coast of Costa Rica. It took the explorer 18 months of negotiations to gain permission for the expedition and it is the first mission permitted in over 25 years. 

Professional Adventurer Shaun Whitehead believes that he has discovered the location of the famous Treasure of Lima

What makes Whitehead so confident that he knows where the treasure is and will be able to recover it, you ask? 

According to news sources, he is heading to Cocos with a wealth of modern technology like an unmanned helicopter that will generate a 3D map of the island and a robot that is equipped with ground penetrating radar. 

Whitehead believes that, “if it is there, it will be in a natural cave which was hidden by one of the many landslides that occur on the island”.

If he does manage to pull it off and discover the lost treasure, it will be one of the most important and exciting discoveries that has occurred in the worlds of archeology, history, and world exploration in a long time. 

Kinda makes you want to pull out a shovel and become one with your inner explorer doesn’t it!

In Photos: Tree VS Temple in Cambodia

by Lindsay Shapka in ,

For hundreds of years, the ancient Khmer rulers put all of their time, and a lot of resources, into filling the jungle with impressive temples that were the seat of both religious and political power in what is now called Cambodia. 

When the kingdom at Angkor finally fell near the end of the 16th century, the temples were deserted, and since then have become completely engulfed by the lush, green jungle. 

Huge trees have wound their way through archways, around sculptures and between pillars. Roots have collapsed towers and have sent saplings up in the most unlikely places, while multicolored moss has created intricate patterns over the grey stone walls

Over time, it seems that the jungle and the temples have come to a beautiful symbiosis.

Though they are ripping the temples apart in areas, the massive trees are simultaneously holding the ancient structures together. Without them, many temple walls — and with them the precious history of this mysterious culture — would have been lost forever. 


Book List: Paddy's Lament

by Lindsay Shapka in ,

All right history buffs (or those of us who want to be), this week’s book list is for you!

Paddy’s Lament is an exploration of the events of two fateful years that author, Thomas Gallagher (1918-1992), puts forward as the basis for understanding the hatred and violence between the Irish and British that STILL dominates the headlines today. 

In 1846, the potatoes in Ireland (the main, and for some the only, food source), were struck with an unknown disease that turned them into an inedible slime. Facing starvation, the Irish population appealed to the British government and absentee landlords (who were growing various crops and raising livestock on Irish land to be shipped to England) for help but were met with indifference and eviction. 

In two years, two million Irish (over a quarter of the population) died while the British ate, farmed, and looked on.

Gallagher did extensive research for this work (evidenced in his bibliography) and includes incredibly graphic descriptions, heart-wrenching emotion and actual documented evidence that some British officials cared more about the livelihood of their animals than they did about Irish human beings.