Cultural heritage is the legacy of physical artifacts and intangible attributes that define and identify the distinctiveness of a society. This includes works of art, literature, music, archaeological and historical artifacts as well as buildings, monuments and historic places inherited from past generations.
Traditionally, cultural heritage is thought of as the legacy of tangible objects that can be seen and touched, but it has also grown to include intangible elements such as social customs, traditions, practices, beliefs, representations, and rituals. These are often rooted in aesthetic and spiritual beliefs, oral traditions, traditional craftsmanship and knowledge transmitted from one generation to the next within a community.
The concept of cultural heritage is increasingly gaining popular and scholarly attention worldwide, as it expands its conceptual scope to encompass the rich array of embodied cultural goods and attributes that shape the lives of people throughout the world. As the social sciences have embraced heritage as a key part of their research agenda, it has been the subject of growing interest in addressing the diverse and complex issues that arise when it comes to safeguarding and promoting this treasure trove of human experience.
Protecting and preserving cultural heritage is critical to the preservation of the diversity of cultures and the survival of the world’s most valuable cultural goods. It is also essential to protecting the environment, as a variety of environmental threats threaten the long-term existence and vitality of cultural assets across the globe.
Illicit trafficking of artifacts and cultural objects, pillaging of archaeological sites and destruction of historical buildings and monuments are all examples of crimes against cultural heritage. This type of damage is often compounded by climate change, as extreme weather events such as earthquakes and fires can destroy ancient buildings and museums.
When it comes to preserving and sustaining culture, there are many things that each individual can do. Choosing to not participate in activities that involve illicit trafficking, refusing to patronize resale websites or questionable auction houses, and interfacing with both governmental and non-governmental organizations that work on behalf of cultural heritage are all simple ways to help preserve and protect this world’s most precious asset.
In addition, individuals can support cultural heritage through a number of philanthropic and charitable organizations, including government ministries of culture, national museums, archives and libraries, and intergovernmental organizations like the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). These are just a few examples of how each of us can be an active contributor to a greater understanding of cultural heritage, ensuring that future generations will have access to it for years to come.
UNESCO has established international conventions to protect and promote cultural heritage around the world. These treaties are based on the belief that all peoples make a unique contribution to culture and that all must be treated with respect.
Efforts to preserve and conserve cultural heritage often require the services of many experts, from architects and law enforcement personnel to conservators, archaeologists, historians, chemists, material scientists, forensic anthropologists, botanists, zoologists, and more. This is because a large percentage of the world’s most important cultural heritage sites are located in areas of high risk for natural disasters and other environmental hazards.