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Zimbabwe's Matobo Hills named world heritage site

afrol News, 3 July - Zimbabwe has seen its forth site included in the World Heritage List "of outstanding universal value". The Matobo Hills - famous for their rock paintings, hidden caves and sacred places - were included for their cultural importance during thousands of years.

Zimbabwe's Matobo Hills have been included into World Heritage List, according to a release by UNESCO, the UN cultural agency, which edits the list and each year decides whether to include new sites of global cultural or natural interest.

According to UNESCO, the Matobo Hills had been nominated for inclusion by Zimbabwean authorities. The area "exhibits a profusion of distinctive rock landforms rising above the granite shield that covers much of Zimbabwe," UNESCO explains.

According to the UN agency, "the large boulders provide abundant natural shelters and have been associated with human occupation from the early Stone Age right through to early historical times, and intermittently since."

They also featured an outstanding collection of rock paintings. "The Matobo hills continue to provide a strong focus for the local community which still uses shrines and sacred places, closely linked to traditional, social and economic activities," UNESCO said in its statement.

The Matobo Hills had met with several of the criteria necessary to be included in the World Heritage List. Of special interest, however, had been the rich archaeological occurrences with thousands of years of continuance. Archaeological digs have found artefacts over 35,000 years old.

UNESCO had noted that the hills had one of the highest concentrations of rock art in Southern Africa. "The rich evidence from archaeology and from the rock paintings at Matobo provide a very full picture of the lives of foraging societies in the Stone Age and the way agricultural societies came to replace them," the UN agency said.

Further, it was emphasised on the interaction between communities and the landscape, manifest in the rock art and also in the long standing religious traditions still associated with the rocks. This was classified as a seldom example of community responses to a landscape.

Finally, the Mwari religion - centred on Matobo and which may date back to the Iron Age - was seen as the most powerful oracular tradition in southern Africa. The Mwari religion is associated with the San people (formerly called 'Bushmen'), which is held to be the indigenous population of Southern Africa.

The Matobo Hills meanwhile also have developed into a tourism site, being placed in Zimbabwe's Matobo National Park, one hour's drive from the country's second city, Bulawayo. It is also known for its scenic beauty and as a good place to spot birds and game, including elephants and black eagles.

Twenty-four sites were inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List, including, for the first time, sites in The Gambia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Sudan. The World Heritage List now numbers 754 sites, including 149 natural, and 582 cultural and 23 mixed sites "of outstanding universal value". Matobo Hills was included as one of 19 new cultural sites to the list.

The three Zimbabwean sites earlier included into the List are the Mana Pools National Park (1984), the Great Zimbabwe National Monument (1986) and the Khami Ruins National Monument (1986).

Most famous of these, also among tourists, are the ruins of Great Zimbabwe - the capital of the Queen of Sheba, according to an age-old legend - which are a unique testimony to the Bantu civilisation of the Shona between the 11th and 15th centuries. The city, which covers an area of nearly 80 ha, was an important trading centre and was renowned from the Middle Ages onwards.

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