Thailand's ancient ruined town of Si Thep, a 1,500-year-old complex of temples, monasteries and other buildings, has been added to UNESCO's world heritage list.
The site in Phetchabun province, located some 200 kilometres (120 miles) north of Bangkok, is Thailand's first cultural site to be recognised by UNESCO since 1992, receiving official recognition on Tuesday.
Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin thanked the UN cultural body for the decision but an expert warned the complex is not ready for an influx of tourists.
Archaeologists date the statues and buildings of Si Thep, built by the Dvaravati civilisation, to between 1,500 and 1,700 years ago.
At its peak the town was a thriving cultural and trading metropolis that celebrated Hindu and Buddhist beliefs.
The decision was announced by UNESCO at a meeting in Riyadh, and in a prepared video message, Srettha thanked delegates for the listing.
Si Thep was "a treasure not only for people all over the world, but for people of all generations," he said.
"I look forward to welcoming you all to the site".
Phatcharavat Wongsuwan, minister of natural resources and environment, said it was a "proud moment" for his country.
Speaking at a press conference in the capital Bangkok, he invited people "to cherish the beauty of Si Thep, the new UNESCO site of Thailand."
But Chulalongkorn University history and heritage lecturer Phacha Phanomvan said the site was "completely unprepared" for a sudden spike in visitor numbers.
"The work starts now," she said, warning of a lack of basic infrastructure including no waste management, roads in poor condition and no parking spaces for large tour buses.
She is worried about undiscovered sites and looting of artefacts which could fetch higher pri ces on the black market because of the heritage listing.
"Si Thep was already one of the most looted sites in Thailand in the 1970s and 1980s," she said.
The site also has unresolved land boundary and zoning issues affecting nearly 300 local villagers, including dozens of households without title deeds.
Officials said that from September 20 to 24 it will be free to enter Si Thep, which is Thailand's fourth site on the UNESCO cultural heritage list.
UNESCO already recognises historic Ayutthaya and Sukhothai towns, as well as the archaeological site Ban Chiang in northeastern Thailand.
Another heritage site
In the meantime, a network of ancient American Indian ceremonial and burial mounds in Ohio described as “part cathedral, part cemetery and part astronomical observatory” was also added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites on Tuesday.
Preservationists, led by the Ohio History Connection, and indigenous tribes, many with ancestral ties to the state, pushed to recognize the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks for their good condition, distinct style and cultural significance — describing them as “masterpieces of human genius.”
UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee approved the application during a meeting in Saudi Arabia. The massive earthworks join a list of famed sites that includes Greece’s Acropolis, Peru’s Machu Picchu and the Great Wall of China.
Constructed by American Indians between 2,000 and 1,600 years ago along central tributaries of the Ohio River, the earthworks were host to ceremonies that drew people from across the continent, based on archeological discoveries of raw materials brought from as far as the Rocky Mountains.
Elaborate ceremonialism linked to “the order and rhythms of the cosmos” is evident in the “beautiful ritual objects, spectacular offerings of religious icons and regalia” found at the sites, the application said. It said the mounds were “part cathedral, part cemetery and part astronomical observatory.”
UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said the earthworks' inclusion on the heritage list “will make this important part of American history known around the world.”