Astronomical Heritage Finder


In collaboration
with the

International Astronomical Union

The ICOMOS–IAU Thematic Study

Throughout the International Year of Astronomy 2009, the IAU’s Working Group on Astronomy and World Heritage worked with the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), the advisory body to UNESCO concerned with cultural sites, to produce a Thematic Study on the Heritage Sites of Astronomy. This document, whose full title is Heritage Sites of Astronomy and Archaeoastronomy in the context of the World Heritage Convention: A Thematic Study, was published on 30 June 2010.

The document presents an overall vision on astronomical heritage, attempts to identify what constitutes “outstanding universal significance to humankind” in relation to astronomy, and identifies broad issues that could arise in the assessment of cultural properties relating to astronomy. For examples of other ICOMOS Thematic Studies, see here.

This is the first Thematic Study in any field of science heritage. It is elaborated using examples of properties, including some already on the World Heritage List or national Tentative Lists.

The ICOMOS-IAU Global Thematic Study on Astronomical Heritage was presented to UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee at its meeting in Brasilia at the end of July 2010. Its endorsement by the meeting means that it may be used as the basis for developing specific guidelines for UNESCO member states on the inscription of astronomical properties.


The 16 main themes covered by the Thematic Study are: Earlier prehistory; Later Prehistoric Europe; Pre-Columbian America; Indigenous uses of astronomy; Ancient and medieval Far East; India; Mesopotamia and the Middle East; Ancient Egypt; The Classical World; Islamic astronomy; Medieval astronomy in Europe; Astronomy from the Renaissance to the mid-twentieth century; The development of radio astronomy; Applied astronomy in modern times; Space heritage; and ‘Windows to the universe’—starlight, dark-sky areas and observatory sites. The main authors are Working Group Chair Professor Clive Ruggles and Professor Michel Cotte of ICOMOS, with a range of other authors being responsible for particular chapters and case studies.

See the contents page for further details.

Available versions

The Thematic Study exists in two versions.

The initial version was published as an e-book in June 2010. It was this that was presented to UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee at its meeting in Brasilia at the end of July 2010. This e-book version is available for free (see the contents page).

A limited-edition printed version has been published thanks to financial sponsorship from the IAU and ICOMOS. Although the text is almost unaltered, the layout has been slightly changed from the e-book version in order to conform to new ICOMOS formatting guidelines. Copies are available from Ocarina Books.

The contents of the Thematic Study will be continually enhanced and updated here on the Portal to the Heritage of Astronomy.

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