FM 2: Astronomical Heritage: Progressing the UNESCO-IAU Initiative

Start Date: 
Tuesday, August 11, 2015
End Date: 
Thursday, August 13, 2015
Co-Chairs of SOC: 
  • Clive Ruggles (University of Leicester)
  • Anna Sidorenko-Dulom (UNESCO World Heritage Centre)

Scientific Organizing Committe

  • Juan Belmonte (Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias)
  • Michel Cotte (Université de Nantes)
  • Ian Glass (SAAO)
  • Cipriano Marín (Centro UNESCO de Canarias)
  • Mikhail Marov (Russian Academy of Sciences)
  • Tsuko Nakamura (Teikyo-Heisei University)
  • Ray Norris (CSIRO Astronomy & Space Science)
  • Wayne Orchiston (National Astronomical Research Institute)
  • Sara Schechner (Harvard University)
  • Chris Smith (AURA Observatory)
  • Sun Xiaochun (Institute for History of Natural Sciences)
  • Richard Wainscoat (Institute for Astronomy, Hawai‘i)
  • David Welch (IUCN Dark Skies Advisory Group)
  • Gudrun Wolfschmidt (University of Hamburg

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The Memorandum of Understanding between UNESCO and the IAU, whereby the two bodies undertake to work together to implement UNESCO’s Astronomy and World Heritage Initiative, was first signed in 2008 and was renewed in 2013. Since 2008 the IAU has played a vital role in a wide range of activities, coordinated up to 2012 through its Working Group on Astronomy and World Heritage and during the 2012–15 triennium directly under the auspices of Division C. The SOC co-chairs have been responsible throughout for coordinating the Initiative from the IAU and UNESCO sides.

The main deliverables to date have been the ICOMOS–IAU Thematic Study on the Heritage Sites of Astronomy and Archaeoastronomy (2010) and the Portal to the Heritage of Astronomy (2012). The Thematic Study, developed by the IAU in collaboration with UNESCO’s independent advisory body for cultural sites, ICOMOS, presents an overall vision of astronomical heritage through a wide range of case studies and helps to establish criteria by which World Heritage List nominations relating to astronomical heritage sites can be judged. The “Portal to the Heritage of Astronomy” is a dynamic, publicly accessible database, discussion forum, and document-repository on astronomical heritage sites throughout the world, directly linked to UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre website. By the time of this meeting a second Thematic Study will have been published, addressing, through a number of extended case studies, key issues such as the protection of dark skies.

The bulk of the proposed sessions and topics within this focus meeting fall into two categories: those dealing with broad questions in the assessment of astronomical heritage (T2–T6); and progress and issues with projects focusing on particular potential nominations (T7–T9). T1 addresses issues in the implementation of the Initiative itself, while T10 is of particular interest given the importance of the Hawaiian Islands’ heritage with regard to both modern and ancient astronomy, the involvement of the Mauna Kea Observatory in the “Windows to the Universe” project, and the expected publication, by the time of the General Assembly, of at least two major new works relating to Hawaiian cultural astronomy.

Certain issues, such as authenticity and integrity—of vital interest, for example, to modern observatories seeking assurance that heritage recognition would not in any way compromise their continuing ability to do cutting-edge science—and conservation and management issues, will enter into most or all of the different topics. Broad questions can often be addressed most clearly through relevant case studies, whether or not the sites concerned are on the World Heritage List or a national “Tentative List”.

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