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WHAT IS CULTURAL HERITAGE, and How Can Science Protect It?

What is cultural heritage? What do you think of when the word “heritage” comes to mind? Cultural heritage is the legacy we have received from past generations. It’s a collection of sites, objects and traditions that bring together the history, art and values of different cultures. It consists of tangible heritage, intangible heritage, and natural heritage.

Tangible Heritage

Chichen Itza

Tangible heritage consists of physical items, such as buildings and archaeological sites. Some of these include the famous Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, or the pyramid of Chichen Itza, Mexico, or the Great Wall of China, all of these being representations of different cultures around the globe.

Another part of the tangible heritage comprises the artifacts that you can find in historical places, museums, or private collections. These can be paintings, to name a few of the famous ones: Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Monet’s water lilies, or Van Gogh’s sunflowers. Other artifacts include old books and parchments, such as the Gutenberg bible, and the Dead Sea scrolls. We can also count here the sculptures of great artists like Michelangelo’s David, the Terracotta Army, and my absolute favorite—the moai of Rapa Nui, the island more commonly known as Easter Island.

the moai at Ahu Tongariki, Rapa Nui, Easter Island

I love the history of Rapa Nui. In fact, visiting this special island in the middle of the Pacific inspired me to write my first novel and I love sharing with people the different historical aspects of Rapa Nui, such as the creation of the moai and the birdman competition.

Natural Heritage

Natural heritage is an aspect of tangible heritage that represents the natural beauties of this world. Some of the natural heritage sites include the Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of Queensland, Australia, the Galapagos islands, in the Pacific Ocean, or one of my favorites—the Ilulissat Icefjord in Greenland.

Maria Baias sailing among icebergs in Greenland

The Ilulissat Icefjord is probably one of the most interesting places I’ve ever visited, and I highly recommend it to anyone searching for adventures among icebergs.

Intangible Heritage

Intangible heritage refers to beliefs, traditions, as well as knowledge and skills that are transmitted from one generation to the next.

representation of the Mexican festivity dedicated to the day of the dead

Some of these include the Mexican festivity dedicated to the day of the dead, or the Chinese traditional medicine practice of acupuncture, or the traditional dances of Bali in Indonesia.

To learn more about intangible heritage, you can explore the UNESCO list of intangible heritage.

Heritage Science in Cultural Heritage

Heritage Science is the field that uses science to study objects and sites of cultural heritage. Having a better understanding of tangible heritage helps with the preservation or our world heritage. This way, many future generations can also enjoy our cultural heritage.

Some of the ways in which science can help cultural heritage is: dating objects, helping with heritage conservation and restoration, and in authenticating art. Here, you can find out more details about all of these different ways in which science is used in cultural heritage.


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