(CNN) — Checking off the world’s most important natural and cultural wonders can be a herculean task.
The World Heritage List — that most lauded and recognizable of preservation lists — includes nearly 1,000 sites all over the world.
That number will almost certainly increase when the World Heritage Committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization meets June 15-25 in Qatar.
Instead of sorting through that encyclopedic list, why not start at the very beginning with the first 12 sites?
The Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, Yellowstone National Park in the United States and the Island of Goree in Senegal were among the 12 sites named to the first list in 1978.
Only countries that sign the convention creating the World Heritage Committee and list can nominate sites, and that was just 40 countries when the first nominations came out. Thirty-six years later, 191 nations have signed the convention.
“There is an incredible diversity of sites both natural and cultural around the world,” said Mechtild Rossler, deputy director of UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre, a 22-year veteran of the organization. “The beauty of this convention is that the text defining natural and cultural heritage is very broad.”
Being named to the list is a big deal. Government officials work for years to prepare their nominations, and preservation officials hope for those designations to support their work. And what tourist site doesn’t tout its World Heritage Site designation?
While we wait to learn the newest members of this prestigious list, here are the first 12 World Heritage sites, listed in the order in which they are listed in the minutes of the September 1978 meeting in Washington.
L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Park, Canada
What’s left of the 11th-century Viking settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Park on the island of Newfoundland in Canada is the earliest evidence of the first European presence in North America.
Excavations have found timber-framed, peat-turf buildings like those found in Iceland and Norse Greenland during the same period. It’s the first and only known Viking site in North America. The site was protected by the government of Canada in 1977, just a year before its inclusion on the World Heritage List.
Nahanni National Park, Canada . . .