The Site of Palmyra, Syria

By Sehee Liz Lee

Palmyra, located north-east of Damascus, in the Syrian Desert, was a caravan oasis on a trade route that linked the Mediterranean world with lands to the south and east such as India and China. In that sense, Palmyra was the crossroads of different ancient civilizations and cultures.

The site of Palmyra has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1980 and was also designated a national monument by Syria for its cultural and historical value. Thus, Palmyra has been receiving worldwide attention because it contains numerous important ancient ruins, which are now endangered due to numerous rounds of military presence and destruction by ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant).

History of Palmyra

Palmyra, also known as its pre-Semitic name Tadmor, is firstly mentioned in the Mari tablets in the 2nd millennium BC. Palmyra became prosperous as an oasis on the caravan trade routes that linked the Persian Gulf and the Eurasian continent to the Far East, India and China. Profiting from its strategic location, Palmyra remained autonomous for over half a century, primarily populated by Aramaeans and Arabs. When it came under Roman control in the mid-first century AD, Palmyra was incorporated into the Roman province of Syria during the reign of Roman emperor Tiberius (14-37 A.D).

Palmyra lost its influence over the trade routes due to the foundation of the Sasanian Empire of Iran in 224 A.D. Odaenathus, had been appointed by governor by Valerian, (253-260 A.D.) He drove the Sassanian’s out of Syria. After his assassination, his second wife, Zenobia ruled the city and expanded the border to Egypt and much of Asia Minor, or Anatolia. Although the city declared its independence from Rome under the rule of Zenobia, the Roman emperor Aurelian reconquered Palmyra in 272 A.D.

In 634, Palmyra was conquered by the Muslim general Khalid Ibnal-Walid in the name of the first Muslim caliph, Abu Bakr. Afterwards, it had been ruled as part of Muslim caliphates until it became part of the Ottoman Empire in 1516.9 In 1678, the ancient ruins of Palmyra were rediscovered by English travelers.

Inscription in Greek and Aramaic in honor of Julius Aurelius Zenobius, the father of Queen Zenobia. Photo by MyOlmec.

Inscription in Greek and Aramaic in honor of Julius Aurelius Zenobius, the father of Queen Zenobia. Photo by MyOlmec.

The artistic & architectural significance of Palmyra

The site of Palmyra bears witness to the mixture of these ancient cultures. Nasser Rabbat, a Syrian art historian, explained that the Palmyrene culture was “Arab in origin, but then classical in influence and in temperament and inclination” and thus, Palmyra is “a mark of how cultures can come together creatively”. Art found on a number of public monuments including the Temple of Ba’al, Diocletian’s Camp, the Agora, Theatre, and other temples exhibits the Greco-Roman art integrated with local traditions and Persian influences.

Specifically, architectural ornaments including distinctive funerary reliefs demonstrate that Palmyra produced a unique artistic style based on its multicultural landscape. While the funerary monuments contain Aramaic inscriptions, they “provide some of the best evidence of jewelry in the Greco-Roman world.“ According to Maura Heyn, an Associate Professor of Classical Studies at the University of North Carolina, monuments “provide us with an abundance of evidence for cultural change and negotiation.”

This Palmyrene artistic style placed its emphasis on the delicate details of clothing of deities and the frontal representation of the person depicted, and is considered a forerunner of Byzantine art.

The design of the temples is also distinctive, although the basic style is closely related to Greek temples; the roofs are decorated with stone triangles known as merlons, of which the edges look like rows of pointy teeth. The grand colonnade that stands along a street of 1100 meters’ in length also represents a major artistic development. The discovery of the ruins of Palmyra by Western travelers in the 17th and 18th century greatly influenced subsequent architectural styles and urban design in the West.

Palmyra as a Sacred Place

Palmyra is also considered a sacred place with its numerous temples such as the Temple of Baalshamin, the Temple of Nabu and the Temple of Bel.

The temples were dedicated to multiple deities, and as Nasser Rabbat explained, “Inside you have to turn either right or left because the temple had two altars.”

Among those temples, the temple of Ba’al was dedicated to the Mesopotamian god Bel, or Ba’al. The temple is considered “one of the most important religious buildings of the 1st century AD in the East and of unique design.” The temple is a symbol of religious tolerance since the temple, originally dedicated to local deities and Mesopotamian and Arab gods, later became a Christian church during the Byzantine era and then was used as a mosque until 1920s after the Muslim conquest.

Stuart W. Manning, chairman of the Department of Classics at Cornell University, said the temple of Ba’al was “a tolerant home to different faiths and ethnic groups where Greco-Roman and local cultures merged.”

While, its religious and cultural value is recognized by all humankind in the world, Palmyra is a source of national pride for Syrians. Salam Al Kuntar, a Syrian archaeologist and visiting scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, explained, “Syrians consider Palmyra so special, because it’s a source of pride for them. They feel very faithful to this past history and the monuments and art that signify it.” Rabbat, recalling his childhood memory of listening stories about Palmyra, also said, “This is the meaning of heritage – it’s not only architecture or artifacts that are representing history, it’s these memories and ancestral connection to the place.”

Temple of Bel 2005 before destruction by ISIL, by Zeledi. Courtesy of

Temple of Bel 2005 before destruction by ISIL, by Zeledi. Courtesy of

Threats due to Syrian Civil War and Destruction by ISIL

Palmyra, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980, because it was a significant cultural site of incalculable value. It has been gravely threatened due to the Syrian Civil War that erupted in 2012 and the following destruction by ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant).

As the violence spread across the Syria in 2012, the Syrian Army set up its military camp in Palmyra; a resident who escaped, described the chaos, “Palmyra is surrounded by the army from all fronts. Machine gun fire rains down from the citadel at anything that moves in the ruins because they think it is rebels.”

Temple of Bel before and after destruction by ISIL in 2015

Temple of Bel before and after destruction by ISIL in 2015

In the face of devastation from warring factions, the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, repeatedly expressed her grave concern about further damage to Palmyra by saying “To date, three UNESCO World Heritage Sites – Palmyra, the Crac des Chevaliers, and Aleppo including the Aleppo Citadel – are being used for military purpose and this raises the risk of imminent and irreversible destruction, in addition to that which these sites have already suffered.” And, “Damage to the heritage of the country is damage to the soul of its people and its identity.” She also called on the Syrian authorities for fulfilling their obligation codified in the 1954 UNESCO Convention for the Protection of Cultural Properties in the Event of Armed Conflict.

In May 2015, the armed extremist group, also known as ISIL, took control of Palmyra, and in August, blew-up of the temple of Baalshamin, one of the best-preserved buildings in Palymra. According to UNESCO, “Its cella, or inner area, was severely damaged, …followed by the collapse of the surrounding columns.” UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova strongly condemned the successive destruction of Palmyrene ancient ruins, saying “The systematic destruction of cultural symbols embodying Syrian cultural diversity reveals the true intent of such attacks, which is to deprive the Syrian people of its knowledge, its identity and history. Daesh [ISIL] is killing people and destroying sites, but cannot silence history and will ultimately fail to erase this great culture from the memory of the world.”

Despite the international condemnation, the extremist group continued the destruction of cultural sites for three reasons, the first of which is that ISIL justifies its destruction in terms of iconoclasm. ISIL considers representative art depicted on the ancient temples as a form of idolatry based on the Muslim monotheism, the belief that there exists only one god. Therefore, pre-Islamic religious heritage, specifically the temples dedicated to multiple deities at Palmyra, is regarded as blasphemous for the group. Another reason behind the destruction is publicity. Destroying the culturally significant temples is the easiest way to attract media attention for ISIL, allowing the group to propagate its message all over the world. In this respect, Erin Thompson, professor of art crime at John Jay College, said, “They are using, essentially, the media to convey to potential recruits this idea that the West is powerless to defend against ISIS’ destruction of things that are so important to us.” In addition, ISIL has been looting the valuable antiquities from Palmyra, which became a source of funding for its activities, thus, meaning the group will continue the destruction of cultural sites such as Palmyra.

The efforts for preservation and protection

Prior to the capture of Palmyra by ISIL, UNESCO had been offering training courses for conservation experts from Syria and hosting meetings in order to create a team of observers to monitor and safeguard the site.

In May 2014, UNESCO held the meeting entitled ‘Rallying the International Community to Safeguard Syria’s Cultural Heritage’ in which more than 120 experts discussed the need to prevent the site from further illicit trafficking and looting of objects and to demilitarize the endangered site. At this meeting, the decision was made by the observers to assess the state of endangered cultural sites within Syria. In December 2014, UNESCO jointly organized a three-week training course for

In December 2014, UNESCO jointly organized a three-week training course for conservation experts from across Syria with the ICCROM-ATHAR, (The International Center for the Study and Restoration of Cultural Property and the Architectural and Archaeological Tangible Heritage in the Arab Region, and the ARC-WH (Arab Regional Center for World Heritage in Bahrain.) Its objective was “to secure the endangered cultural sites and take the appropriate preparatory procedures for the post-conflict recovery phase,” by improving technical skills of conservation architects, engineers and archaeologists.

While Palmyra was under the control of ISIL, the international community condemned ISIL’s destruction of the site and UNESCO also called for cooperation of all the partners and relevant parties to ensure safeguarding of Palmyra. Some experts even sacrificed their lives to protect the endangered sites. Khaled al-As’ad, who spent more than 50 years on the task of overseeing and preserving antiquities at the site of Palmyra, was murdered by ISIL since he refused to reveal the location of valuable antiquities.

After the Syrian army, backed by Russian warplanes, retook the site of Palmyra in March 2016, experts sent by UNESCO have been in the process of assessing the state of ancient buildings damaged in the wake of the conflicts. Specific emergency safeguarding measures to be undertaken are being discussed at the 40th session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, held in June and July of 2016.

Now the site of Palmyra needs more worldwide attention and help than ever to rehabilitate the destroyed buildings and the glorious historical, religious, and cultural values instilled in them; the Syrian government and UNESCO need to collaborate in establishing policy to organize a team of experts who are able to conduct a systematic survey and restoration of the site. We also, need to avoid purchasing cultural artifacts of uncertain provenance in order to prevent further illicit trafficking and destruction of cultural heritage caused by ISIL.

Creating a Contemporary Sacred Site

By Stephen Fowler

Peace Site Overview — Photo by Stephen Fowler

“Every land should be a holy land. One should find the symbol in the landscape itself of the life there. That’s what all early traditions do. They sanctify their own landscape.”
~Joseph Campbell, “The Power of Myth” with Bill Moyers

In this article I will explore how Arthur Lisch organized a community of supporters to create a “Peace Site.” I will also give a brief history of the enterprise, which continues to this day, though Parkinson’s disease has forced Arthur to cease working there. I will also touch on the subjects of anthroposophy and geomancy.

Arthur Lisch and His Background

In 1986-87, Arthur Lisch and some friends set out to sanctify a small portion of land on the western edge of Sebastopol, located in Sonoma County, California.

Lisch was also a follower of Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher who founded the esoteric-spiritual Anthroposophist movement.

Arthur was well prepared for undertaking the creation of a peace park. He had been active in the counterculture heyday of San Francisco and was part of the Diggers, an activist community group, operating from 1967-1968, in the Haight-Ashbury district located in San Francisco, California. The Diggers had the radical idea that they could provide all the necessities of life to whomever wanted them – for free. It was here that Arthur learned the fundamentals of community organizing.

Lisch was also a follower of Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher who founded the esoteric-spiritual Anthroposophist movement. Steiner’s lectures on agriculture led to Biodynamics and his educational philosophy was manifest in Waldorf Schools. Steiner’s lectures on numerous subjects were infused with spiritual philosophy such as believing there was a spiritual foundation for all phenomena including earth’s features.

Steiner’s spirituality developed into a personal form of Christianity that was non-denominational and non-dogmatic. While Arthur, and his wife Paula, chose to attend an Eastern Orthodox Church in Calistoga, California. Arthur hoped for a reconciliation of the Catholic and Orthodox branches of the Christian church, a thousand year-old schism.


Geomancy identifies lines of force, alignments, patterns and invisible earth energies underlying the visible landscape.

For Arthur Lisch, all of his concerns and passions blended seamlessly with the art and science of geomancy – the study of earth’s energies – that was being taught in the 1980s by Richard “Feather” Anderson. Geomancy identifies lines of force, alignments, patterns and invisible earth energies.

Humankind’s response to these forces has resulted in countless efforts to modulate them through the acts of building temples, pyramids, barrow mounds, and standing stones that may align with landscape features and celestial phenomena, such as solstices and the progression of the planets.

Mother and Child Wood Carving

mother and child wood carving

– by Takayuki Zoshi; Mother and Child Wood Carving – Photo by Kate Broderson


As John Michell puts it in his book, The Earth Spirit,

“Like Kundalini, the vital serpent current that animates living bodies, the spirit of the earth is discernible only in its effects and not by analysis. It is therefore of no concern to physical science…yet its influence was formerly considered to condition every aspect of life on earth, and…heroic efforts have been made…to learn its secrets so as to bring forth its more socially desirable properties.”

Theory in Practice

With his knowledge and experience with geomancy and spirituality, Arthur began to execute his vision for a peace park. First, he examined the map of Sonoma County and discovered one striking fact that involved the early settlers of what is now Sonoma County. The Russians and their Orthodox priests and the Spanish padres had each created outposts precisely fifty-five miles apart. The Russians, in their trek down California’s coast, had stalled at Fort Ross, while the Spaniards and their evangelical padres had reached the northernmost point of expansion at the Sonoma Mission. For a while, until the Russians retreated, these two Christian cultures maintained outposts in a landscape that was already extraordinarily potent, with its Pomo and Miwok Indian sites, its redwood forests, rugged Pacific coastline, fertile inland valleys, cloud-topped Mount Saint Helena, and meandering river – now known as the Russian River.

Lisch began by drawing a straight line between Fort Ross and the Sonoma Mission. He noticed that it passed through the town of Sebastopol, and that a point on the western edge of that town was exactly twenty-two and a half miles from each outpost. Going to the vicinity indicated on the map, Arthur discovered a county regional park that was in the process of being constructed on the long-defunct Ragle family ranch. Wandering in the abandoned Ragle orchard, he discovered a unique chestnut tree formed from two trees wedded together. About fifty feet away stood a Bartlett pear also created from two trees springing from the same root. Using the chestnut as the hub and the Bartlett as the radius point, he circumscribed a circle one hundred feet in diameter and declared it to be a “national peace site.” Regional parks officials, of course, had doubts and questions when Arthur took his idea to them. However, Arthur’s persuasive presentation convinced the park’s chief, Joe Rodota, and Lisch was allowed to implement his idea.

First Steps and County Pushback

Arthur fashioned a mission statement for the Peace Site, stating his intent to build “ a stating his intent to build “ a work of public art with the maximum of community participation that makes a profound statement about world peace.” His mission successfully engaged the large pacifist community in Sonoma County who formed the volunteers who help build and care for the park.

At first, the site had no features other than its two trees and a stretch of rank weeds and grasses. A formal groundbreaking took place on November 8, 1987.

A year later, Arthur wrote a report to the Sonoma County County Parks Department. Some excerpts included:

“…Hundreds of people have taken part. A Pomo elder has prayed for the land. Fourteen Soviets, who had come across the country as part of a joint U.S./Soviet peace walk, came to the site. There have been visits by Russian Orthodox and Catholic priests. There was a group meditation on peace for all nations. The group donated a “peace pole” which has the message “May peace prevail on earth” in Russian, Spanish, Japanese, and English. Biodynamic compost…was incorporated into the circle. Ann Magnie, (Sebastopol’s then-mayor,) donated a Japanese black pine. At the spring equinox, there was a large celebratory event. Plants were put in at poles that had been placed in the four directions…We came to a decision that we would have a spiral path. The path was moved a bit in relation to “Feather” Anderson’s suggestions about the entrance.”

Despite all this activity, a design for the park had not been finalized.

Lisch and his supporters developed the Peace Site by interfacing with the Regional Parks Administration. The process was challenging, but a design was eventually developed and agreed upon by all parties. The plan called for the Peace Site to be circumscribed by a zig-zag split-rail fence, its outer points corresponding to the sixteen compass directions, a concept that grew from Arthur’s study of the chess board.

The Peace Site Takes Shape with a Central Focus

The Peace Site consists of symbolic natural plantings, sculptures and carvings added over time by a variety of individuals, groups and artists. It was decided that a central focus based on geomancy would guide the ever-evolving site.

The logarithmic spiral of the Nautilus Shell

The logarithmic spiral of the Nautilus Shell

The Peace Site began to take shape when Geomancer Richard “Feather” Anderson drew a spiral path that mimicked the natural form exemplified by the logarithmic spiral of a Nautilus Shell. The path culminated at the central chestnut tree. The tree embodied a different sort of symbolism, as well as being a botanical curiosity. When the peace site was started, the tree was in such decline that an arborist declared it would be dead within a few years. But, the tree recovered, even though the trunk still displayed large swaths of dead wood.

The central chestnut tree showing the “daughter’s” roots before the addition of Takayuki Zoshi’s “Mother and Child” wood carving. – Photo by Kate Broderson

The trunk also seemed to be divided into “sub-trunks,” which on close examination proved to be the exposed roots of a second tree – or daughter – which had sprouted from a seed some six feet up in the mother’s damaged heart.

The “mother” and “daughter” trees, wrapped in a tight embrace, became the peace site’s signature feature; both had withstood the ravages of time, weather, and neglect to become – as they are now – radiantly alive and once more producing nuts.

Another important element of the garden that is related to the central tree is a sculpture that was commissioned by the Peace Site Care Group who raised the money for this project.

A five-member jury comprised of artists, chose finalists out more than 50 entries. Six sculptors were selected to create models that were displayed for six weeks in order to allow County Supervisors and Park Officials to inspect them. Ultimately, Masayuki Nagase’s granite “Prayer for Peace” (see photo at the end of the article) was selected as the winner.

The sculpture consists of two upright slabs, each approximately seven feet high, between which visitors can stand, and a carved granite table, over which trickles a tiny, continuous stream of water. This stream is captured at the base and piped to the roots of the chestnut tree. The water is a magnet for birds and small children, and the sculptor has written that it “…symbolizes the source of the human spirit and our consciousness for peace.”

In 2012, the Peace Site Care Group decided to use some accumulated donations to commission a very talented local woodcarver, Takayuki Zoshi, to carve a mother-and-child sculpture into the dead wood of the original tree. Chestnut wood is extremely rot resistant, and it accepted Zoshi’s chisel gracefully. This sculpture made the dual nature of the chestnut explicit, and nowadays, if you stand between the upright slabs of Masayuki’s piece, you look right into the eyes of Zoshi’s celebration of motherhood.

Six or seven paces behind her, you can see a long, carved redwood and hammered copper bench, designed by sculptor Bruce Johnson, and completed by students in the Artstart summer arts program. Johnson also contributed a tall, tapered, octagonal peace pole, which now—thanks to the “Peace Crane Project” of the local Peace and Justice Center—displays the words “May peace prevail on earth” in eight languages, including Pomo.

Many additions to the Peace Site are encountered while traversing Feather Anderson’s spiral path before finally resting in the shade of the chestnut tree. At the far eastern compass point, there once grew a “Peace” rose, planted in a joint ceremony by local Jews and Palestinians to celebrate the famous handshake between Palestinian leader, Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister, Begin. After Begin was assassinated, the rose withered and died.

Further on, a Gravenstein apple tree grows, placed by Orthodox priests who brought it from Fort Ross; in the same ceremony, the Catholic bishop of Santa Rosa contributed a grape grown from vines at the Sonoma Mission. The grape and apple are planted precisely along the Fort Ross-Sonoma line that first inspired Arthur.


A bit further, one passes a rosa rugosa, a species of rose native to Eastern Europe, planted by a group of Russian exchange students. Next, comes a group of memorial plantings that includes roses, a solitary boulder, and a mugo pine. All of these features culminate in a small rock garden dedicated to the late Danaan Parry, an international diplomat for peace and founder of the Earth Stewards.

Continuing on, one passes a Colorado blue spruce, brought by the grandson of Cyrus Eaton, who organized the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs; and next, a birch tree ceremoniously installed by Ukranian students. Finally, at “due north,” we see Mayor Magnie’s Black Pine.


“Peace” is an umbrella concept under which many causes can gather. The Peace Site at Ragle Park does not presume either to define “peace” or to advise nations on how they should conduct foreign policy. It aims for something more personal, more intimate, and less verbal. It is a place of meditation, ceremony, and art, a place where visitors are welcome to bring their own emotions – whether grief, or anger, or longing – into an atmosphere of love and acceptance.

The Peace Site Care Group prunes and waters and rakes so that the many visitors, young and old, feel welcomed into a beautiful, well-tended environment. Then the visitors themselves, by augmenting the earth energies gathered there continue the process of sanctifying their own landscape.


About the Author

Stephen Fowler is a retired landscape designer who, when his wife died in 1987, set out to do something worthy in her memory. He joined the Peace Site Care Group in 1987. He has been the Volunteer Coordinator since 1992.


 The author with Masayuki Nagase’s granite “Prayer for Peace.” The sculptor has written that it “...symbolizes the source of the human spirit and our consciousness for peace.” - Photo by Kate Broderson

The author with Masayuki Nagase’s granite “Prayer for Peace.” The sculptor has written that it “…symbolizes the source of the human spirit and our consciousness for peace.”
– Photo by Kate Broderson

Antequera Dolmens & El Torcal Mountains of Andulusia, Spain


Antequera Dolmens & El Torcal Mountains of Andulusia, Spain

Added to UNESCO World Heritage List in 2017

About the Site:

The site comprised three megalithic monuments: the Menga and vVera dolmens and the Tholos of El Romeral. Pictured above, is the entrance to the Menga Dolmen and below the interior.

These monumental stone tombs were constructed in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages. The Structures contain chambers with lintelled roofs or cupolas and are buried beneath their original earth tumuli. They comprise some of the best examples of their kind.

The site, in addition, includes two mountains: The mountains known as El Torcal, below:

and La Peña, de los Enamorados, a mountain known as “Lover’s Leap,” below:



Libya Remains on UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Danger

All five of Libya’s World Heritage Sites were put on the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites in Danger in 2016 and they remain there. The reason is the high level of instability in Libya and damage due to looting and armed conflucts in and around the sites. These include: the Rock Art Sites of Tadrart Acacus, the archaological sites of Leptis Magna, Cyrene and Sabratha and the Old Town of Ghadamès.

The Rock Art of Tadrart Acacus

These sites are found in the Acacus Mountains, a rocky compact mountain range that is part of the Sahara Desert. The rock art found here exhibits a variety of styles dating from 12,000 BCE to 100 C.E. (See photo below by Roberto D’Angelo). The various rock art within the site suffered under Muammar Gaddafi and the endangered status of the site encompassed this era of neglect and included past looting along with vandalism that continues.

Picture of a cave painting

The Archaeological Site of Sabratha

Sabratha was a Phoenician trading post eventually rebuilt by the Romans during the 2nd and 3rd C.E. It is notable for its numerous temples, including one dedicated to the goddess Isis, who was considered to be the protector of ships and sailors. The Mausoleum of Bes is another notable sacred site within the ancient city. There is an excellent gallery of phots on the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Archeaological Site of Cyrene

picture of Cyrene and a crumbling edifice

Cyrene, founded in the 7th C BCE, was one of the prominent Greek cities of the Hellenic world. Later, it became Romanized until a large earthquake destroyed it in 365 c BCE. O

ver a thousand years of history can be found at this site (Photo above, The Temple of Zeus, by Giovanni Boccardi). The Temple of Zeu is almost as large as the Parthenon in Athens.



The Archaeological Site of Leptis Magna

picture of Leptis Magna and crumbling edifices

Leptus Magna, founded by Septimius Severus, the first Emperor from Libya, was an important city in the Roman Republic from about 111 BCE. The emperor used his wealth to erect elegant buildings, including temples (See photo below of the Severan Basilica by Sasha Coachman), throughout the city. Statues of Medusa, a fertility goddess, were found in public squares all over the city.



Burro Flats

The Site:

Burro Flats Rock Shelter and Cave Paintingspicture of a cave painting

The Location:

Undisclosed Location, Ventura County, California, U.S.A.

The Site’s Status:

National Register of Historic Places, 1979

Who considers it sacred?

The ancestors of the Chumas and the Gabrielino Tribes, and the Fernandeno Tatavian Band of Mission Indians.

Why is it sacred?

The Burros Flat is a calendric site that marks the Winter Solstice


It is on 2,849 acres of land that once was owned by Boeing for what was known as the Santa Susana Field Lab; leased to Rocketdyne aerospeace company, along with another tenant, the U.S. Department of Energy. The site was used as a nuclear research facility and for testing rocket engines. The Chumas sacred site was closely guarded and even employees did not know its location, making it one of the best-preserved rock paintings in the country.

The U.S. Department of Energy & NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) had to do extensive cleanup to rid the site of nuclear waste from nuclear meltdowns, carcinogenic dioxins, and heavy metals. The cleanup by the North American Land Trust and is protected as open space. The 2300 acres of land is restricted from farming, hunting, housing along with ranching and any other kind of development.

The Santa Ynez Chumash tribe manages the site and its location; they strictly control who may visit this sacred site. It is a ceremonial site and is only visited by Chumash head holy healers and tribal leaders.


Standing Rock Sioux Indian Burial Grounds

The Site:

Standing Rock Sioux Indian Burial Grounds, Stone Prayer Rings and Ancient Cairns

The Location:

North Dakota, U.S.A.

The Threat:

The 1,200 mile long Dakota Access Oil Pipeline traverses part of Standing Rock Sioux tribal lands located in North Dakota. Lawyers for the Standing Rock Sioux filed a request to stop the project, when it became apparent that the pipeline would destroy a recently identified burial ground, along with stone prayer rings and ancient rock cairns. In addition, the pipeline travels beneath the Missouri River, a primary source of drinking water for the tribe and other people downstream. Any leak in the pipeline would contaminate the drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux.Banner reads: Defend the Sacred - picture of a protest against the pipeline


See the Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! Story: Did the Dakota Access Pipeline Company Deliberately Destroy Sacred Sioux Burial Sites?

A large camp was established on the pipeline site, the Oceti Sakowin Camp. It was a historic gathering of tribes and allies who were expressing solidarity in stopping the Dakota Access Pipeline, Calling themselves, The Water Protectors’. The Oceti Sakowin Camp will be a place for future indigenous meetings.

To learn how the encampment began, read the New York Times Magazine article about the young people who first camped out at the site: “The Youth Group that Launched a Movement at Standing Rock.”

Also, read this article from the New Yorker, “Holy Rage: Lessons from Standing Rock,” by the American novelist, Louise Erdrich, a member of the Turtle Mountin Band of Chippewa Indians. Ms. Erdrich was born in Little Falls, Minnesota.

Who Considers the Site Sacred?

Standing Rock Sioux and other Sioux Tribes including other Indians throughout the U.S.

The Site’s Status:

The Standing Rock Sioux have sued the Army Corps of Engineers saying they violated the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and the National Environment Policy Act (NEPA). NHPA requires the agency to consider the cultural significance of federally permitted sites and NEPA to consider the possible consequences associated with waterways – putting a pipeline under the Missouri River. The litigation is ongoing and a court has rejected arguments that the construction be halted while the case is in litigation.

Oil started flowing through the pipeline in the spring of 2017.

McDonnell Hall

The Site:

McDonnell Hall

The Location:

Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish, San Jose, California, U.S.A.

The Site’s Status:

National Historic Landmark, 2017

Who considers it sacred?

The Mexican American Community, the United Farm Workers Union and civil rights communities, and Catholic Diocese of San Jose.

Why is it sacred?

McDonnell Hall is where Cesar Chavez, founder of the United Farm Workers Union and civil rights pioneer, began his lifelong efforts in community organization.


The modest one-story, stucco clad building, was moved to the outskirts of San Jose in 1953, and first served as a parish church for the growing Spanish-speaking Catholic community in the area. It was a place of worship as well as a social hall used by the community for meetings, celebrations, and education classes.

It was in this capacity that a young Cesar Chavez met Father Donald McDonnell and community organizer, Fred Ross. McDonnell befriended Chavez, bringing to him exposure to the teachings of Ghandi, the work of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the growing awareness of non-violent protest to bring out social change. Ross mentored Chavez and he began to apply these strategies to improve the plight of his friends, family, and neighbors.

It was in McDonnell Hall that Chavez began to involve himself more fully in the organization of the primarily poor and migrant community around him toward improving their treatment and status. This is where his rallying cry, ¡Si, Se Puede! (Yes! We Can!) was developed. Throughout his career, he returned to this building, to his original community, to find strength and solace.

As the parish and the population of the community expanded, the building was moved to another portion of the original site in the 1970s, when it became a parish hall to support the activities and efforts of the newly constructed Lady of Guadalupe Parish Church. The original building was re-stuccoes and modified at that time to better serve its new purpose. Plans are currently underway to restore the building to its appearance in 1953, when Chavez first began his connections to structure.

The recognition of this simple, imperfect building with the Unites States Secretary of the Interior’s highest honor emphasizes the growing the growing awareness of the National Park Service of minority and marginalized community contributions to the cultural significance of the country. The McDonnell Hall National Historic Landmark joins the Cesar Chavez National Monument in Keene, California and the Forty Acres National Historic Landmark Site in Delano, California in celebrating and continuing the work that Cesar Chavez started in 1953 in this humble former-church building in San Jose.

Nan Madol: Sacred City of Micronesia by Carol Nervig

Nan Madol rises dramatically and unexpectedly out of the Pacific Ocean. This majestic ancient city filled with sacred centers is located off the island of Pohnpei in the U.S. Micronesia. It is the largest archaeological site in the Pacific region. Nan Madol is comprised of an intricate system of waterways that crisscross 92 human constructed islets and structures. The black stone buildings are completely unique in their construction. There is no other architecture of this kind known in the world. The building of Nan Madol was an impressive engineering feat that withstood strong waves and ocean currents. The city’s construction also required divine assistance and spiritual intent when heavy megalithic stones were moved into place. Now, after standing for over 1500 years, the survival of this sacred city is threatened by deterioration.

The site was constructed on an area called, “The Reef of Heaven.” The building took place over a period of one thousand years, between 500 and 1500 A.D. Many of the islets are dominated by megalithic structures comprised of long, naturally prismatic, log-like basalt stones. Some of these rocks weigh 50 to 60 tons. Evidence suggests that some of the islets played an important roles in the religion of a thriving Pacific Ocean culture. Upper Madol, “Madol Powe,” was the priests’ town and Lower Madol, “Madol Pah,” was occupied by high-ranking rulers. Both sections included important sacred sites.

According to Pohnpeian oral history, initial construction of Nan Madol was begun by two brothers, Ohlosohpa and Olosihpa.

These holy men sailed from a land in the west searching for a place to build a sacred center where they could worship a presence called the “honored spirit of the land.” After several attempts they found a suitable location. With the assistance of gods and their companions, they first erected a rock on the reef to serve as a transit for laying the islets’ foundations. Strong waves made building nearly impossible. Finally an important man arrived on a magical rock to assist with the project. He cast a spell and the rock turned into an outer foundation wall that protected the islet structures from ocean forces. This wall has the only gate providing entrance to Nan Madol from the ocean. It is believed that this gate leads to an honored underground city, Kahnimweiso.


Just beyond the entry gate stands the most impressive of the site’s structures. The islet is called Nan Douwas, which means “in the mouth of the high chief.” It was a place to pray to “the honored spirit of the land,” as well as a refuge and meeting place for tribal chiefs. This islet consists of an immense double-walled stone burial vault that housed the remains of ancient rulers. Its impressive construction contains 13,500 cubic meters of coral fill, 4,500 cubic meters of basalt and has twenty-five-foot high walls. Because of its spectacular appearance, Nan Douwas is the most frequently visited islet.

The main religious center of Nan Madol was the islet of Idehd. Every year, at a time determined by divination and change in the agricultural seasons, the high priests performed extended rituals of homage, supplication and atonement. The rituals ended with the offering of a turtle to the great saltwater eel that acted as a medium between the people and the ruler’s god. The eel’s acceptance of the turtle indicated that, “the honored spirit of the land,” was pleased with human conduct on Pohnpei.

Other islets had important sacred ceremonial sites. Darong was symmetrically constructed around a natural reef pool. Eleven tunnel-like channels ran through the coral fill. These were constructed with carefully cut coral bricks set between rows of basalt columns. It is believe that these channels were used to keep sacred eels, Legends indicate that the pool was also used for seasonal ritualistic clam fishing. A remarkable two-ton pounding stone found on this islet suggests a ceremonial structure of priest’s house.

The islet of Peikapw had two sacred pools. One probably held the turtles used on Idehd. The other was a magical pool where rulers could see all events taking place on neigh boring islands. IN addition, there are two sacred trees and stones said to have once been women who neglected a famous giant god.

Kohnderek was the most important islet for burial rituals. When a person dies their body was perfumed with coconut oil and wrapped in a mat along with flowers, fish bones, and some of their belongings. They were taken to visit all the islets, finally stopping at Kohnderek. The most important funeral dancing and drinking occurred on this islet before the burial on one of the other islets.


As the end of the 20th century grows closer, Nan Madol is in danger of destruction from the ravaged of tie and from increased tourism. Immediate preservation needs are the stabilization of the islets’ retaining walls and the walls of the structures, vegetation removal and maintenance and proper management of eco-tourism.

The protection and preservation of Nan Madol was provided for in 2986 in its proclamation as a U.S. National Historic Landmark. The site is being nominated to the World Heritage List of the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO because of its “outstanding universal value from the historical, aesthetic and anthropological points of view.” (See Site Saver, Vol. II, No. 3 on UNESCO World Heritage Sites.)

The state of Pohnpei is passing its own preservation legislation, which will further protect the site’s integrity and aesthetic qualities.

The importance of the site has also attracted a group of private individuals who have formed the Nan Madol Foundation. This non-profit group is dedicated to researching, preserving, and protecting the area. They are developing a master plan for education and economic development.

Tourists are increasing at this unique site. Their numbers are expected to increase exponentially when the National Geographic Society releases its new book Mysteries of Mankind  later this year. Approximately 600,000 copies will be produced, featuring such sacred sites as the Pyramids, Stonehenge, Easter Island, and Nan Madol.

In anticipation of more visitors, the Nan Madol Foundation is working to preserve the site and its culture by building small family-owned traditional-style hotels. They envision a strong educational component for visitors, which will emphasize traditional island arts, crafts, dances, and story telling. By such forward thinking it is hoped that this site can be preserved for future generations before overdevelopment and overuse destroy its integrity.


Carol Nervig is a former Peace Corps volunteer who served on the island of Pohnpei. Sacred Sites International first published this story in 1992. It took over 25 years for Nan Madol to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 


Nan Madol – Sacred City of Micronesia

Nan Madol

The Site:

Nan Madol, The Federated States of Micronesia.

The Location:

Offshore along the eastern coast of Pohnpei Island.


Nan Madol is a series of more than 100 human constructed islets made of artificual basalt and coral boulders. The islets are home to the megalithic ruins of temples, tombs, palaces and residences built between 1200 and 1600 CE. It was the sacred ceremonial center of the Saudeleur dynasty. It represents a dynamic manifestation of the chiefly structure of this Pacific Island culture that continues today under the control of the traditional management of the Nahnmwarki.

The Threat:

Siltation of the seawater is causing overgrowth of mangroves, which are engulfing the structures and some are threatening the integrity of the monuments.

Why is it Sacred?

The very fact that this complex of temple structures and their sheer number exist is a testament to the elaborate religious practices that have been and continue to be practiced at these sites.

What is its Status?

The site is listed, according to the Kaselehile Press in July of 2016, on the U.S. Registry of Historical Sites. The Federated States of Micronesia legally protected the site, as did the Pohnpei Historic Preservation Office. The site was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2016 and places on the List of World Heritage Sites in Danger.

Editor’s Note: Sacred Sites International first learned of this site in 1992 and covered it in our newsletter, Site Saver, because it was endangered. 

Bears Ears National Monument, Utah

Bears Ears National Monument

The Site:

Bears Ears National Monument

Map of Bears Ears location in Utah

The Location:

Utah, U.S.A., in San Juan Country in Southeastern Utah on public land. The Bureau of Land Management, United States Forest Service, oversees the sites.

 The Threat:

President Donald Trump approved the U.S. Secretary of the Interior recommendation for a significant downsizing of the land included in this National Monument in October of 2017. As reported in the Washington Post, Trump plans to reduce the monument to two or three small places. Such a reduction of the monument’s land leaves vast areas open to oil and mineral drilling and cattle grazing. This has the potential of destroying the sacred qualities of the place along with sacred sites and artifacts.

Who Considers It Sacred?

The major American Indian groups in Utah: Diné Nation (Navajo), Hopi Tribe, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Unitah & Ouray Ute Tribe and the Pueblo of Zuni.

In addition there are numerous tribes and pueblos who have cultureal ties to the land in and around Bears Ears: the White Mountain Tribe, the San Juan Kaibab & Utah Paiute Tribes, Hualapai Tribe, and the Pueblos of Acoma, Cochiti, Isletta, Jemez, Laguna, Nambé, Ohkay Owingeh, Picuris Pojoaque, Sandia, San Felipe, San Ildefonso, Santa Ana, Santa Clara, Santo Domingo, Taos, Tesuque, Ysleta Del Sur and Zia.

Why is it Sacred?

The Indian tribes who regard Bears Ears as sacred have oral histories about the ears of a bear, manifest as two prominent towering forms looming above the mesa.

It is estimated that there are over 100,000 significant cultural and sacred sites which can be found throughout the extensive monument. These include ancestral cliff structures, ancient surface structures built from rock and ancient Diné Hogans. There are also hunting and gathering territories used to gather sacred plants for ceremonies, and incised rock sites that tell the history of the Native Peoples who have inhabited the lands included in the Bears Ears National Monument.

The Inter-Tribal Coalition website has information about the various regions of Bears Ears and photo slideshows.

What is its Status?

In mid-September 2017, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, delivered his “Final Report Summarizing Findings of the Review of Designations Under the Antiquities Act.”

Zinke’s report states, “It appears that certain monuments were designated to prevent economic activity such as grazing, mining and timber production, rather than to protect specific objects.”