Maya and Aztec

Ancient Mesoamerican civilizations






UNESCO creates inventory of prehispanic sites with astronomical value

Category: News reports

INAH, may 26, 2009. To celebrate the International Year of Astronomy, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) prepares a data base of Prehispanic sites and living manifestations with astronomic and archaeoastronomical value, inscribed or not in the World Heritage List. The Americas inventory will be coordinated by Dr Stanislaw Iwaniszewski, part of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH). Iwaniszewski, academic at the National School of Anthropology and History (ENAH), is an acknowledged Mesoamerican archaeoastronomy researcher, author of several books and articles published in international journals.

The specialist announced that between January and April 2009, arrangements have been made between UNESCO, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), and the International Astronomical Union (IAU) to incorporate a group of experts that would be divided in 14 sections according to geographical areas and chronology.

Regarding the Americas, “we have to make a detailed catalogue of cultural goods related to evidence of astronomical activities of Amerindian peoples, before European colonization”, he mentioned. “We are looking forward to integrate a first list in 2 months for it to be evaluated by UNESCO in August, and to have ready the definitive one by October 2009”.

Each registration form must include a general description of the site, its cultural affiliation and chronology, an archaeoastronomical evaluation (describing the level of astronomical knowledge reached by the creators of such spaces) and bibliography related to the theme. These sites are divided in 2 categories: to those already part of the World Heritage List, the astronomical evaluation would be added. In Mexico, Chichen Itza and Uxmal, in Yucatan; Palenque, in Chiapas, and Monte Alban, Oaxaca, among other sites, are already inscribed. “The other group is conformed by sites not inscribed in the list, but could be in the future through the Serial Nominations’ modality,” explained the archaeologist that recently participated in the colloquy “Mesoamerica, 3,000 Years of Celestial Observation”. The inventory is mainly composed by links to astronomical observations, but also by pictorial and sculptural testimonies, “such as Venus glyphs found at Governor’s Palace in Uxmal, or constellations represented at Bonampak, Chiapas”.

Registration tasks coordinated by Stanislaw Iwaniszewski have began in North American region, supported by the experts Stephen C. McCluskey, ancient astronomy researcher, and Todd W. Bostwick, rupestrian art specialist. “At this moment, we are discussing which cultural goods of Canada and United States could be integrated. We have agreed on including one rupestrian art site, the best documented, where constellations or supernova are represented, and 2 archaeological sites, such as Pueblo Bonito, the greatest Canon del Chaco structure, in Nuevo Mexico. Solstice observations in rocky shelters are also considered”.

In Mexico, besides the cities already part of the World Heritage List, Iwaniszewski contemplates less known sites with important astronomical value: El Cerrito, Queretaro, Canada de la Virgen, Guanajuato, or Boca de Potrerillos, Nuevo Leon. A living expression considered is the Flying Men ritual, which refers to the 52-year Prehispanic calendar.

Iwaniszewski concluded that with these actions, UNESCO looks forward to link science and heritage, “and turn sites where important astronomical observations have taken place, into heritage places”.

Source: INAH.


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