Kernavė is an area of unique archaeological and historical value. In 2004 the State Cultural Reserve of Kernavė was declared as UNESCO World Heritage Site, thus recognizing the importance of the area according to two value criteria for UNESCO heritage sites:
* Criterion (iii): The archaeological site of Kernavė presents an exceptional testimony to the evolution of human settlements in the Baltic region over the period of some ten millennia. The property has exceptional evidence of pantheistic and Christian funeral traditions.
* Criterion (iv): The settlement patterns and the impressive hill-forts represent outstanding examples of the development of such types of structures and the history of their use in the pre-Christian era.
For Lithuanians, however, Kernavė is a symbol of statehood, the capital of pagan Lithuania, about which there are many legends and stories. In historic sources, Kernavė was first mentioned in 1279 in the Herman Wartberge’s Livonian Chronicle, which described the unsuccessful march of the Order of the Sword to Kernavė, the land of Grand Duke Traidenis. The Middle Ages (13th–14th cent.) were an exceptional time for Kernavė, one of the most important political and economic centres in Lithuania, a time of flourishing and, unfortunately, of failures. It left an invaluable heritage: a fortification system of five hill-forts, burial ground with amazing grave goods, the traces of burnt ducal castles and the remains of a town of craftsmen and merchants, which has disappeared.
The cultural heritage of the last pagan country in Europe lies hidden under a layer of deposits. Archaeological excavations, which started in the area almost 30 years ago, deepened our knowledge about the country’s prehistory, and about one of the most significant processes in the history of Lithuania and Europe, the transformation of a pagan community into a Christian one.
At present only about 2 per cent of the area of the reserve has been excavated. As a result, 16 archaeological and three historical monuments have been entered in the state register of immovable cultural values. The Archaeological and Historical Museum of Kernavė now houses over 20,000 exhibits, some of which are on display in the museum.
The most significant results of the scientific research, however, are that Kernavė has come to be known as a site of great importance for the investigation of the Balts history. Investigations continue…