In collaboration with the
International Astronomical Union

The Heritage

Within our database, an ‘item’ of astronomical heritage is referred to as an ‘astronomical heritage entity’. The term ‘entity’ is chosen so as avoid, as far as possible, any preconceptions regarding the nature of the heritage concerned.

The reasons for including an entity in our database are to aid discussions about specific and general issues, and to facilitate comparative studies.

In the case of cultural properties not already included on the World Heritage List, the inclusion or otherwise of that property as an entity on our site has no bearing whatsoever should the State Party concerned decide to nominate the property, or one related to it, for inscription on the List.

About heritage entities

Each heritage entity belongs to one or more categories and to one of more types, as defined below. It may relate to any of the themes identified in the thematic essays. Most (but not all) entities relate to a particular place (or places) and to a particular span of time. Finally, there are different sources of information about different entities.

  • The categories are: cultural–tangible fixed (‘immovable’); cultural–tangible movable; cultural–intangible; and natural. See Categories of astronomical heritage for more information.
  • The type is a more subjective classification that may be helpful in selecting relevant heritage. The available types include: cultural properties connected with astronomy; astronomical observatories, instruments, and artefacts; starlight reserves and oases; and intangible heritage such as calendars and indigenous practices.
  • For a list of the themes see the Themes page.
  • Tangible and natural entities relate directly to a particular place (or places): for example, the location of a fixed property or the original location (find spot) or current location (e.g. museum or collection) in the case of movable items. For potential World Heritage Sites there is also the complex issue of core and buffer zones (logged-in users: see Creating a credible dossier). In general terms, it is evident that sometimes the location will be a tightly defined spot and sometimes a relatively large area or a set of separated spots or areas. The connection(s) to a particular place or places may be most debatable in the case of intangible entities.
  • An entity will typically relate to a particular span of time, although many factors may limit the accuracy to which this can be meaningfully specified.
  • The main sources of information about entities currently included in our database are ICOMOS–IAU case studies and IAU extended case studies. Some entities relate to cultural properties already inscribed on the World Heritage List, or included in national Tentative Lists. For these entities further information is available on the UNESCO World Heritage Centre website.

Each of these factors may be filtered in within a search for relevant information using the astronomical heritage finder (see below).

Serial entities

Multi-site, or ‘serial’, entities are those relating to more than one separate location (e.g. a set of sites or objects—the term is not used for a single object that has been moved). In the case of multi-site cultural properties, these reflect actual or potential serial nominations (logged-in users: see Creating a credible dossier).

This is reflected in our database using subentities, each of which may be considered as an entity in its own right or as a part of the ‘parent’ serial entity.

Using the astronomical heritage finder

It is intended that the usage of the astronomical heritage finder should be largely self-evident. By ticking or unticking the relevant boxes, and by sliding the timespan control, it is possible to filter a search so that only the most relevant astronomical heritage entities appear on the finder map. Alternatively, the list view can be used to display the entities in alphabetical order or according to the source of information.

A heritage entity that a covers significant area is marked on the finder map by a spot at a central location within the area. If the “include all subentities of multi-site (serial) entities” box is unticked, then the serial entity in question will be marked at the location of one of its subentities; if the box is ticked, the locations of all the subentities will be shown.

The colour of the marker on the map represents the source of information on the entity concerned. In many cases there is more than one source, and in these cases the marker is white. The desired source of information can be located by clicking on the marker and then selecting among the "multiple descriptions from different sources" option list that appears first on the information screen. If the finder map is magnified almost to its highest zoom level, then markers representing each of the different sources of information for the entity in question will show up in slightly different locations offset from the ‘true’ position.

Levels of access

In order to ensure that the contents of this database remain authoritative and reliable, levels of access have been carefully structured so that content, and proposed changes to the content, can be openly discussed among the international community but also monitored and moderated at a number of levels. Thus:

  • Public users see only published content.
  • Registered users can view most discussions in the forum but cannot contribute to them.
  • The ability to edit content, to view its history, and to discuss proposed changes in the forum, is restricted to professional users who are specifically granted access privileges by the management team or its advisors. This professional group includes authors of the ICOMOS–IAU Thematic Study on astronomical heritage and members of the IAU’s Working Group on Astronomy and World Heritage. Others can join this group, by contacting the content manager and being approved by the editorial team, which contains representatives of UNESCO and its advisory bodies.
  • Additions and changes approved by consensus may only verified by a member of the editorial team. Only verified content can be published by the project team.