The Concept of Cultural Heritage

Cultural heritage is the material and intangible expressions of a people’s way of life. It includes artefacts, historical sites, language, music and beliefs.

The purposeful actions of nonstate armed groups, militias, despotic governments and invading armies to attack cultural heritage inflict losses that far exceed the physical destruction of objects. Better techniques to quantify use and nonuse values become instructive in understanding the enormous cost of such attacks.


Cultural heritage refers to the physical and intangible attributes of a society that are deemed important enough for preservation. Cultural heritage can include works of art, monuments, buildings, and sites that have been designated as historic or archaeological, along with social customs and traditions. People often attach a value to their culture and heritage that goes beyond the commercial or market values of these assets. For example, the Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous painting, is considered part of Italy’s national heritage even though it has been in the Louvre for centuries.

It is difficult to define the value of cultural heritage, but scholars generally include a combination of use value and nonuse value. The latter is difficult to measure and includes indirect effects such as aesthetic benefits. These are often linked to physical benefits, such as the enjoyment of a historical city or a museum visit. This distinction can help with efforts to protect cultural heritage from damage.


The meaning of cultural heritage is multifaceted. It entails the heirlooms, customs, traditions, values, knowledge and skills that societies recognize as belonging to their culture. It also encompasses the cultural spaces associated with them. These elements have aesthetic, historic, scientific, sociological, and symbolic value.

It includes monuments, buildings, and works of art that have cultural or natural significance. It may also include a collection of intangible objects like languages, music and dance. This can also refer to the natural environment, including mountains and forests, or a historical city.

The concept of cultural heritage is complex and evolving. It has experienced a typological and thematic extension, and a shift in its selection criteria. In addition, the concept has become increasingly recognized for its economic and cycling potential. This is similar to the idea of sustainability, which aims to maintain the environmental conditions in which humans and nature can coexist productively for generations to come. This is a goal that many archaeologists have begun to embrace, although with some resistance.


Culture provides an important sense of identity and belonging. It helps communities define their values and moral foundations, inspires a sense of community pride and responsibility, and encourages a desire to learn from the past. It also fosters a sense of connection with and responsibility toward the natural environment.

Unfortunately, human societies have a tendency to abuse their heritage, inflicting losses that go far beyond the physical destruction of monuments or the loss of individual artifacts. The purposeful actions of nonstate armed groups, militias, despotic governments or invading armies to attack tangible cultural heritage, such as historic buildings or cities, often amount to social and cultural genocide.

Efforts to preserve and make accessible cultural heritage require significant investment. This must be weighed against competing priorities for scarce government funding, including education, health and infrastructure. Measuring indirect use value offers a useful approach for justifying these investments, demonstrating that the social benefits of heritage preservation exceed the costs.


Bringing rigor to the estimation of the value of cultural heritage contributes to the awareness of its role as an asset that should be protected and promoted. The concept of heritage is a recent development that has become widely accepted in the world of archaeology, although it still meets resistance from some groups who feel that their heritage is more important than archaeological values (Gould and Burtenshaw, 2014).

Cultural heritage can include physical artifacts, works of art, buildings, monuments, and historic places. It can also encompass intangible characteristics such as social customs and traditions, beliefs, folklore, and language.

The importance of heritage is often expressed by the fact that it connects people to their past, gives them a sense of identity and pride, and inspires a commitment to future generations. The value of heritage also helps to strengthen communities, and encourages citizens to care for their culture. This is especially true in conflict zones, where a sense of national and community pride can prevent violence and the destruction of cultural heritage.

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