From stone age to space age

The study is the result of a collaboration between the IAU Working Group on Astronomy and World Heritage and the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), the advisory body to UNESCO regarding cultural sites. The two organisations worked together to produce a detailed account of the rich history of astronomy around the world and the key sites for this heritage. The document, the full title of which is “Heritage Sites of Astronomy and Archaeoastronomy in the context of the World Heritage Convention”, identifies broad issues in the assessment of cultural heritage relating to astronomy and includes examples of historical sites, some already on the World Heritage List or national Tentative Lists. This study was an integral part of the successful International Year of Astronomy 2009, whose activities in 148 countries reached millions of people and increased public understanding and appreciation of astronomy around the world.

The study has several objectives. One is to gain a clearer picture of the character and composition of astronomical heritage around the world. Another is to identify just how to define this type of heritage in the context of the World Heritage Convention. The report details the main characteristics we should expect from an astronomical heritage site, and compares this to a representative sample of major heritage sites for astronomy around the world.

Sixteen main topics are identified in the report, which covers human history from the Stone Age to the Space Age.

“Astronomy represents a rich and significant part of humanity’s shared cultural and natural heritage. Recognising this formally means that we can now identify and clarify astronomical value in the context of the World Heritage Convention,” says Clive Ruggles, chair of the IAU’s Working Group on Astronomy and World Heritage and co-author of the study.

Anna Sidorenko-Dulom, Chair of the International Year of Astronomy 2009 Cornerstone project Astronomy and World Heritage and coordinator of the thematic initiative Astronomy and World Heritage at UNESCO World Heritage Centre adds: “Recently there has been a lot of interest in reviewing the relationship between the heritage of the sciences, the traditional knowledge of indigenous communities, and the World Heritage Convention. In this context, the new Thematic Study provides the foundation for assisting State Parties to harmonise their Tentative Lists at a thematic level and to prepare nominations, including comparative analyses explaining the importance of nominated properties in their national and international context. This raises the serious possibility of including astronomical sites of outstanding universal value in the World Heritage List.”

The study therefore has important practical implications for the effective implementation of the World Heritage Convention and for helping State Parties create credible nomination dossiers. But as well as its practical benefits for the management of world heritage, the study is a useful tool for helping to understand humanity’s history.

“This document proposes valuable new concepts for heritage, combines different categories of cultural heritage in previously unexplored ways, and highlights hitherto unrecognised links between cultural and natural heritage,” says Michel Cotte, co-author of the study and ICOMOS advisor. “We believe that the vision arising from this study is more broadly applicable beyond astronomy to the history of science. This will be to the lasting benefit of the whole of science and technology heritage.”


The ICOMOS-IAU Thematic Study (ISBN 978-2-918086-01-7) is freely available for download from the website of the IAU’s Working Group on Astronomy and World Heritage: http://www.astronomicalheritage.org and from the IYA2009 website: http://www.astronomy2009.org/resources/documents/detail/astronomy_world_heritage_thematic_study/

The document “Heritage Sites of Astronomy and Archaeoastronomy in the context of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention: A Thematic Study”, was coordinated and written by Clive Ruggles and Michel Cotte with contributions by Margaret Austin, Juan Belmonte, Amanda Chadburn, Von Del Chamberlain, David DeVorkin, Eduardo Fayos-Solá, Danielle Fauque, Ivan Ghezzi, Ian Glass, He Nu, John Hearnshaw, Tofigh Heidarzadeh, Rebekah Higgitt, Jarita Holbrook, Manuela Incerti, Stanisław Iwaniszewski, Subhash Kak, Stéphane Le Gars, Stephen McCluskey, Giulio Magli, Cipriano Marín, Mikhail Marov, Ricardo Moyano, Casiana Muñoz-Tuñón, William Breen Murray, Efthymios Nicolaidis, Ray Norris, Park Jeong Eun, Juan Pérez Arencibia, Michael Rappenglück, Angel Rodriguez, Shi Yun-li, Malcolm Smith, John Steele, Richard Wainscoat, Richard Wielebinski, Tom Wilson, Gudrun Wolfschmidt, Günther Wuchterl, Michael Wright and Xu Fengxian.

The Thematic study was published by ICOMOS and IAU, with the ISBN 978-2-918086-01-7 (e-book) and supported by Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) and Starlight Initiative.

The IAU is the international astronomical organisation that brings together almost 10,000 distinguished astronomers from all nations of the world. Its mission is to promote and safeguard the science of astronomy in all its aspects through international cooperation. The IAU also serves as the internationally recognised authority for assigning designations to celestial bodies and the surface features on them. Founded in 1919, the IAU is the world’s largest professional body for astronomers.


ICOMOS — IAU Thematic Study: (ISBN 978-2-918086-01-7): http://www.astronomy2009.org/resources/documents/detail/astronomy_world_heritage_thematic_study/

IAU’s Working Group on Astronomy and World Heritage: http://www.astronomicalheritage.org

UNESCO’s Astronomy and World Heritage Initiative: http://whc.unesco.org/en/activities/19

ICOMOS Thematic Studies: http://www.icomos.org/studies

34th Session of the World Heritage Committee website: http://www.34whc.brasilia2010.org.br/

International Year of Astronomy 2009 website: http://www.astronomy2009.org


Clive L. N. Ruggles

University of Leicester

United Kingdom

Tel: +44 116 252 3409/2611

Email: [email protected]

Anna Sidorenko-Dulom

Astronomy and World Heritage

Paris, France

Tel: +33 1 45 68 20 96

Email: [email protected]

Pedro Russo

International Year of Astronomy 2009 Coordinator/ESO ePOD

Garching, Germany

Tel: +49 89 320 06 195

Cell: +49 176 6110 0211

Email: [email protected]

Ian Corbett

General Secretary, International Astronomical Union

Paris, France

Tel: +33 1 43 25 83 58

Email: [email protected]

Lars Lindberg Christensen

IAU Press Officer

Garching, Germany

Tel: +49 89 3200 6761

Cell: +49 173 3872 621

Email: [email protected]

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