Our definition of science is taken from the work of Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher of science from New York:

“Science is the systematic study of empirical data about the world. It deals with the study and understanding of natural phenomena, and is concerned with empirically (i.e., either observationally or experimentally) testable hypotheses advanced to account for those phenomena. Scientific theories are always tentative, and they are always either improved upon or abandoned in favour of new ones. The product of science is evidence-based information.” (Pigliucci 2009)


For some time now, our definition of astronomy has been

“Celestial objects & phenomena as contemplated by people.”

‘Contemplation’ is defined as “the action of looking thoughtfully at something for a long time.” and its synonyms are “viewing, examination, inspection, observation, survey, study, scrutiny; deep reflective thought.”

Polcaro (2016) has phrased the same understanding somewhat better, and we’ve adopted this as our working definition:

“Astronomy is the human activity devoted to the interpretation of what is seen in the sky.” (Polcaro 2016)

Cultural Heritage

As a working definition, the Centre understands cultural heritage as

the legacy of physical artefacts and intangible attributes of a group that are inherited from past generations, maintained in the present, and bestowed for the benefit of future generations.

These legacies are customarily conceptualized as being tangible, intangible, and natural. Tangible heritage includes buildings, landscapes, monuments, books, art, and artefacts. Intangible heritage includes indigenous knowledge, ‘modern’ scientific and technological knowledge, folklore, myths, ways of life, beliefs and rituals, value systems, artistic and literary forms of expression, and language. Natural heritage includes culturally significant landscapes and biodiversity.

While the Centre is focussed, at least for the time being, on the astronomical heritage of the Republic of South Africa, our cultural heritage is ultimately part of the story of the whole of humankind.


Jokilehto, J. (2005) Definition of Cultural Heritage: References to documents in history. ICCROM Working Group “Heritage and Society”. (Download the PDF)

UNESCO World Heritage Centre (2013) Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention. WHC 13/01.

Pigliucci, M. (2009) On the difference between science and philosophy, viewed 2016 December 17

Polcaro, V. F. (2016) The Credibility of Archaeoastronomy: A suggestion from pharmacology?, Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry, 16(4), 1-5.

Protecting South Africa’s astronomical heritage