Scientific enquiry plays an important role in the production of knowledge that contributes to our shared understanding of cultural heritage. ‘Heritage science’ refers to all applications of science for the general study of cultural heritage, tangible and intangible. It can be described as a cross disciplinary research domain in which humanities and sciences come together to develop a deeper understanding of cultural heritage, and draws on the contribution of science disciplines spanning the natural, social and formal sciences. In particular, heritage science focuses on issues such as promoting access to cultural heritage, its interpretation, conservation, and management.
Among the different scientific disciplines that currently contribute to heritage science are natural sciences, engineering and technology which are typically used to help resolve questions concerning materials and their behaviour: how and of what and when cultural objects were made, how they were used, and how they have changed over time – and are likely to change in the future. In addition human sciences such as social science and psychology reveal aspects regarding cultural significance, social function, appreciation and engagement with heritage. In recent years the formal sciences, information science and statistics have also found increasing application for example revealing patterns within large data sets, creating model simulations, assisting the design of experiments, and helping to predict future material behaviour in diverse contexts.
Within heritage science are a number of areas of particular focus, one of which is cultural heritage conservation (for which often the specific term ‘conservation science’ is used). Here, the primary purpose is to support the preservation of cultural heritage and its intangible values. Core areas of focus include the identification of how and from what materials heritage objects were made; how these change and deteriorate over time and in different contexts; and how to optimize conservation treatments, display and storage conditions to reverse or slow down the effects of decay. In addition, heritage science contributes to the conservation and management of heritage in context within places of cultural significance, including both historic and natural environments.
But beyond the physical preservation of objects and places, heritage science seeks to preserve meaning, and bring benefit to people through promoting access to heritage. By unlocking hidden narratives, and finding ways to support sustainable uses, heritage science contributes to a deeper understanding and appreciation, encouraging people to engage with and care for their heritage today and in the future.
These web pages, available via the menu on the left and also the links below, provide further information regarding the heritage science sector, and in particular heritage conservation science, including key issues for development, and ongoing work undertaken by ICCROM to highlight the relevance and impact of heritage conservation science.