Cultural Sites of Al Ain (Hafit, Hili, Bidaa Bint Saud and Oases Areas)
The Cultural Sites of Al Ain (Hafit, Hili, Bidaa Bint Saud and Oases Areas) constitute a serial property that testifies to sedentary human occupation of a desert region since the Neolithic period with vestiges of many prehistoric cultures. Remarkable vestiges in the property include circular stone tombs (ca 2500 B.C.), wells and a wide range of adobe constructions: residential buildings, towers, palaces and administrative buildings. Hili moreover features one of the oldest examples of the sophisticated aflaj irrigation system which dates back to the Iron Age. The property provides important testimony to the transition of cultures in the region from hunting and gathering to sedentarization.
Outstanding Universal Value
The serial property of The Cultural Sites of Al Ain, with its various component parts and the regional context in which it is situated, provides testimony to ancient sedentary human occupation in a desert region. Occupied continuously since the Neolithic, the region presents vestiges of numerous prehistoric cultures, notably from the Bronze Age and the Iron Age. Al Ain is situated at the crossroads of the ancient land routes between Oman, the Arabian Peninsula, the Persian Gulf and Mesopotamia. Very diverse in nature, the tangible elements of the property include remains of circular stone tombs and settlements from the Hafit and Hili periods, wells and partially underground aflaj irrigation systems, oases and mud brick constructions assigned to a wide range of defensive, domestic and economic purposes. This expertise in construction and water management enabled the early development of agriculture for five millennia, up until the present day.
Criterion (iii):The Cultural Sites of Al Ain provide exceptional testimony to the development of successive prehistoric cultures in a desert region, from the Neolithic to the Iron Age. They establish the existence of sustainable human development, bearing testimony to the transition from hunter and nomad societies to the sedentary human occupation of the oasis, and the sustainability of this culture up until the present day.
Criterion (iv): The tombs and architectural remains of the Hafit, Hili and Umm an‐Nar cultures provide an exceptional illustration of human development in the Bronze Age and the Iron Age on the Arabian Peninsula. The aflaj system, introduced as early as the 1st millennium BC, is testimony to the management of water in desert regions.
Criterion (v): The remains and landscapes of the oases of Al Ain appear to testify, over a very long period of history, to the capacity of the civilizations in the northeast of the Arabian Peninsula, notably in the protohistoric periods, to develop a sustainable and positive relationship with the desert environment. They knew how to establish the sustainable exploitation of water resources to create a green and fertile environment.
Constituted by 17 satisfactorily identified components, the Cultural Sites of Al Ain form a serial property of sufficient integrity to express exceptional values of prehistoric and protohistoric cultures in relation to the development of the oasis landscape. The proposed sites cover sufficiently extensive areas, and include many diverse archaeological vestiges, which are generally well preserved and adequately protected. Integrity would however be reinforced by a systematic inventory, and a deeper knowledge of the nominated ensembles and their environment. The history of the oases from the protohistoric period until the 19th century remains very fragmentary and must be scientifically studied. The environment close to the ensembles forms landscapes which are associated with the desert, mountains and existing oases, and this also applies to their urban dimension, but in some cases their urban setting features anachronistic elements nearby, resulting from contemporary development (leisure park, modern buildings, road and hotel infrastructures, etc.). Environmental integrity must be carefully monitored to ensure these developments do not proliferate to adversely affect their setting.
The prehistoric sites of Al Ain, and particularly the Hafit and Hili ensembles, and the associated moveable artefacts, have high levels of authenticity. Several of the archaeological sites recently excavated present built vestiges which are fully authentic. Since their discovery in the second half of the 20th century however, there has been a tendency to reconstruct certain circular tombs in an effort to make them emblematic, which necessarily limits their authenticity. The presence of aflaj systems dating from the Iron Age has been authenticated, most notably in the case of Hili 15 falaj, which presents intact all units of the system (cut‐and‐cover section, shari’a and the open channels) and where there has been no intervention except sandbag barriers for protection and draining rainwater. The aflaj of Al Ain do not all date from the Iron Age, but include new additions to the system throughout later centuries. Recent studies have filled some gaps in the continuity of the system. Further efforts toward more systematic documentation will aid the evaluation of their authenticity as a system forming the basis of today’s oases.
The restoration work on buildings and mud‐brick constructions in the oases, which took place from the 1980s onwards, was dominated by reconstruction taking precedence over conservation of the physical fabric. This tendency has been corrected over recent years, to ensure greater respect for authenticity (in forms, structures and materials), as considerations of authenticity have been at the core of conservation activities by ADACH. The conditions of authenticity of the oases in terms of utilization seem essentially in place, as the efforts of the national and local authorities and the farm owners. Together, they aim to ensure the continued flourishing of oases. However, threats posed to their authenticity due to the impact of the changing economy on the sustenance of agricultural activities, the changing water supply and the pressures of urban proximity need to be monitored closely.
Protection and Management Requirements
The property has been protected legally by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (ADACH) Establishment Law of 2005 and the Oasis protection laws of 2004 and 2005, as well as the Law of Archaeology and Excavations of 1970. Building regulations of Al Ain Municipality’s Town Planning Department forbids the construction of new buildings of more than four storeys and a maximum height of 20 metres. The sites within the property and its buffer zones are registered on the inventory managed by ADACH, which also administers the Preliminary Cultural Review, the cultural heritage component of the emirate’s Environmental Impact Assessment process. Two draft laws, the emirate‐level Law for the Protection, Conservation and Management of Cultural Properties, and the Federal Archaeological Resources Protection Act, are both in the final stage of review by government agencies. These laws will improve the existing protective framework for the sites.
The property’s protection is provided by numerous sectorial arrangements reflecting the complexity of the property’s definition. The Abu Dhabi Cultural Heritage Management Strategy provides the overarching management framework for the Cultural Sites of Al Ain. It has an implementation plan consisting of 19 action plans, some of which have been completed already, and which have informed the Entity Strategic Plan of the ADACH. The ADACH Entity Strategic Plan has been a live document reissued on a rolling basis, and its 2010‐14 cycle is completed. The Heritage Management Strategy is currently being reviewed and updated, to incorporate specific management plans and other projects for specific sites. ADACH has been merged with the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority in February 2012 to create the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (ADTCA). Work has been ongoing since then to ensure continuity of strategic policies and achieved milestones for the management of heritage resources within the institutional restructuring process.
Disclaimer concerning the text of the Statement of Outstanding Universal Value of the site ‘Cultural Sites of Al Ain’(Hafit, Hili, Bidaa Bint Saud and Oases Areas), United Arab Emirates
With reference to the text of the Statement of Outstanding Universal Value of the site ‘Cultural Sites of Al Ain’(Hafit, Hili, Bidaa Bint Saud and Oases Areas), United Arab Emirates, it should be noted that, according to the United Nations directives of 15 May 1999 (ref.ST/CS/SER.A/29/Rev.1) the term ‘Persian Gulf’, ‘Gulf’ and ‘Shatt-al-Arab’ shall be referred to and used in all documents, publications and statements emanating from the Secretariat as the standard geographical designation of the sea area between the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic Republic of Iran.