In collaboration with the
International Astronomical Union

Astronomical Heritage: Progressing the UNESCO–IAU Initiative

A Focus Meeting (FM2) held at the 29th IAU General Assembly
Honolulu, Hawai‘i, August 11–13, 2015


Rationale for the meeting

Since 2008 the International Astronomical Union has worked with the UNESCO World Heritage Centre to implement its Astronomy and World Heritage Initiative. Through deliverables such as the ICOMOS–IAU Thematic Study on the Heritage Sites of Astronomy and Archaeoastronomy (2010) and the Portal to the Heritage of Astronomy (2012), it has been influential in developing broad criteria for assessing the heritage values, and ultimately the potential Outstanding Universal Value (needed for inclusion on the World Heritage List), of cultural sites of all ages relating to astronomy. Since 2012, representatives of the IAU have begun to work directly with State Parties in the context of the Initiative to help develop particular potential nominations to the World Heritage List.

This meeting reviewed achievements to date, discussed some of the most challenging current issues in the general assessment of different types and categories of astronomical heritage, and evaluated progress with projects focusing on particular potential nominations.

Highlights included a round-table forum on “The Development of Mauna Kea as an Astronomical Site”, organised by David DeVorkin and Teasel Muir Harmony with a panel including John Jefferies, Ann Boesgaard, Alan Stockton, Eric Becklin and Alan Tokunaga; an hour-long presentation on Polynesian archaeoastronomy by archaeologist Patrick V. Kirch; and two very productive sessions focusing on the preservation of dark skies in a World Heritage context, organised in collaboration with FM21 on “Mitigating Threats of Light Pollution & Radio Frequency Interference”.

A taster event held at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu on August 9 featured the announcement that the AURA Observatory in Chile has become the world’s first IDA Dark Sky Sanctuary, and the launch of a revised edition of the book Nā Inoa Hōkū, long regarded as a definitive source of reference for anyone studying the use of astronomy in Polynesian voyaging, by Hawaiian authors Rubellite Johnson and John Mahelona working in collaboration with archaeoastronomer Clive Ruggles.

Significant outcomes included the resolution to set up an “Astronomical heritage in danger” Working Group of IAU Division C under the auspices of the new Commission C4 on World Heritage and Astronomy. The session concluded by identifying a number of important links between heritage, history, outreach and education activities within Division C. .

PDF copies of PowerPoint presentations, as available, may be obtained by clicking on the titles concerned. The Proceedings of the meeting will be published in Astronomy in Focus, Volume 1: XXIXth IAU General Assembly, August 2015, edited by Piero Benvenuti, to be published by Cambridge University Press.


Programme: sessions and topics

The final programme was as follows:

Session 1: The implementation of the Astronomy and World Heritage Initiative: achievements, issues and prospects

Chair: Malcolm Smith (Chile)

Session 2: The potential for archaeoastronomical World Heritage sites

Chair: Michel Cotte (ICOMOS)

  • Establishing the credibility of archaeoastronomical sites Clive Ruggles (UK)
  • Can astronomy enhance UNESCO World Heritage recognition? The paradigm of 4th Dynasty Egyptian pyramids Juan Belmonte (Spain)
  • Astronomy, Illumination and Heritage: the Arles-Fontvieille megalithic monuments and their implications for archaeoastronomy and world heritage Morgan Saletta (Australia)
  • Serial nominations for the AWH initiative: the paradigm of seven-stone antas and beyond Juan Belmonte (Spain)

Session 3: Recognizing the Twentieth-Century Heritage of Astronomy

Chair: Michel Cotte (ICOMOS)

The Development of Mauna Kea as an Astronomical Site: conversations with John Jefferies (Forum moderated by David Devorkin and Teasel Muir Harmony, USA)

Session 4: World Heritage and the Protection of Working Observatory Sites

A joint session with FM21: Mitigating Threats of Light Pollution & Radio Frequency Interference

Chair: Clive Ruggles (UK), substituting for Cipriano Marín (Spain)

Session 5: Observatories, Observations and Archives: Scientific, Historical and Heritage Issues

Chair: Anna Sidorenko (UNESCO)

  • “Route of astronomical observatories” project: classical observatories from the Renaissance to the rise of astrophysics Gudrun Wolfschmidt (Germany)
  • Are historical observations "ancient" or "modern"? Elizabeth Griffin (Canada)
  • Plate archive digitization, creation of electronic database and its scientific usage Areg Mickaelian (Armenia)
  • Odyssey of human creative genius: from astronomy heritage to space technology heritage Olga Dluzhnevskaya and Mikhail Marov (Russian Federation) (read by Boris Shustov)

Session 6: Preserving Dark Skies and Protecting Against Light Pollution in a World Heritage Framework

A joint session with FM21: Mitigating Threats of Light Pollution & Radio Frequency Interference

Chair: Malcolm Smith (Chile)

Session 7: Hawaiian and Polynesian Cultural Heritage Relating to Astronomy

Chair: Juan Belmonte (Spain)

  • Marae o te Rangi, temples of the heavens: explorations in Polynesian archaeoastronomy Patrick Kirch (USA)
  • Nā Inoa Hōkū: Hawaiian and Polynesian star names Clive Ruggles (UK), John Mahelona (USA) and Rubellite Johnson (USA)

Session 8: Dealing with Movable and Intangible Heritage in a World Heritage Framework

  • Astronomical knowledge in holy books Sona Farmanyan and Areg Mickaelian (Armenia)
  • Astronomical heritage and Aboriginal people: conflicts and possibilities Alejandro López (Argentina)
  • Native skywatchers – earth-sky mirroring, Kapemni pairs - Ojibwe and D(L)akota sacred star sites Annette Lee, Carl Gawboy, Jim Rock, William Wilson, Jeff Tibbetts and Charleen O'Rourke (USA)
  • Gufa, a unique cultural ritual--a tale of forbidden sun and a girl Pritisha Shrestha (Nepal)
  • Astronomy in the City for astronomy education Rosa M. Ros (Spain) and Beatriz García (Argentina)


Scientific Organising Committee

The Scientific Organising Committee for the meeting was:

  • Juan Belmonte (Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias, Spain)
  • Michel Cotte (Université de Nantes, France)
  • Ian Glass (SAAO, South Africa)
  • Cipriano Marín (Centro UNESCO de Canarias, Spain)
  • Mikhail Marov (Russian Academy of Sciences, Russian Federation)
  • Tsuko Nakamura (Teikyo-Heisei University, Japan)
  • Ray Norris (CSIRO Astronomy & Space Science, Australia)
  • Wayne Orchiston (National Astronomical Research Institute, Thailand)
  • Clive Ruggles (University of Leicester, United Kingdom) [CO-CHAIR]
  • Anna Sidorenko (UNESCO World Heritage Centre, France) [CO-CHAIR]
  • Sara Schechner (Harvard University, USA)
  • Chris Smith (AURA Observatory, Chile)
  • Sun Xiaochun (Institute for History of Natural Sciences, China Nanjing)
  • Richard Wainscoat (Institute for Astronomy, Hawai‘i, USA)
  • David Welch (IUCN Dark Skies Advisory Group, Canada)
  • Gudrun Wolfschmidt (University of Hamburg, Germany)