The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has approved three ancient Pyu Kingdom cities – Hanlin, Beiktano and Sri Kestra – as World Heritage Sites, the first time any historical monument in Burma has been recognised by the prestigious UN award.
The city-states of Pyu existed from before the 2nd century BC to the mid-11th century, and stretched from Sri Kestra near modern-day Pyay up through central Burma as far north as Tagaung, which is about 200km north of Mandalay.
The partly excavated archaeological sites of Hanlin, Beiktano and Sri Kestra include ruins of palace citadels, burial grounds and early industrial production sites, as well as monumental brick Buddhist stupas, partly standing walls and water management features – some still in use – that underpin the intensive agriculture organisation of these early settlers.
The UNESCO announcement was made at the 38th session of the World Heritage Committee in the Qatari capital of Doha on Sunday.
A 15-member delegation from Burma, led by Sandar Khin of the Ministry of Culture’s Department of Archaeology, flew to Qatar on 14 June to attend the session.
Speaking to DVB on Sunday following the announcement, Aung Kyaw Kyaw, deputy-director of the Department of Archaeology, said, “We are delighted to win this world recognition for the first time. The achievement is a combined effort by many people in Burma. It will promote cultural and national dignity, and help preserve our country’s cultural heritage.”
Burma’s Ministry of Culture originally submitted an application to UNESCO in 1996 – during the era of the military junta – requesting the Pyu Kingdom be awarded World Heritage status.
In September 2013, it ramped up its campaign when Minister of Culture Aye Myint Kyu visited villagers in Hanlin and requested they support the bid by cooperating with local authorities.
“The local people were urged to join hands with the department for preservation of our cultural heritage,” state media said.
Last week, DVB reported that archaeologists are planning to excavate ancient ruins in Irrawaddy Division’s Ingapu Township which they believe may be 2,000-year-old remnants of the Pyu Kingdom.
“We heard the Department of Archaeology is planning to excavate the site when they have the budget. And we are preparing more field trips to investigate the area,” said archaeologist Bhone Tint Kyaw.
The ancient Pyu cities were built of bricks around walled moats. Irrigated and rich in agriculture, the cities were strung along the Irrawaddy and Chindwin rivers, and were part of an overland trade route between China and India.
The kingdom was founded as part of the southward migration by the Tibeto-Burman-speaking Pyu, arguably the earliest inhabitants of Burma. The thousand-year period, often referred to as the “Pyu Millennium”, linked the Bronze Age to the beginning of the classical period when the Bagan Kingdom emerged in the late 9th century.
Hanlin, founded in the 1st century AD near present-day Shwebo in Sagaing Division, was the largest and most important city until around the 7th or 8th century when it was superseded by Sri Kestra.