Haua Fteah Cave

Libya
Date of Submission: 20/07/2020
Criteria: (iii)(iv)(v)
Category:
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Libya to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Soussa, Cyrenaica
Coordinates: N22 3 5 E32 53 70
Ref.: 6488

Description

The Haua Fteah cave is a huge semi-circular rock-shelter in the lime stone escarpment of the Aljabal Alakhdar (the Green Mountain) with the lip of the rock about 60m above the ground and a half circle roof diameter of about 80m. It is located in the Cyrenaica region (North-Eastern Libya) about 8 km to the East of the city of Soussa.

The site was identified as a likely site of early human occupation and in 1951-1955 excavations by the University of Cambridge established that the Haua Fteah cave contains a 14 metre-deep record of human occupation, dated at the time from c.80,000 years ago to recent centuries. The 2007-2015 excavations by the University of Cambridge have established that the occupation revealed in the 1950s in fact spans the last 150,000 years, so including the whole of the last glacial cycle: the last interglacial 130,000-70,000 years ago; the last glaciation 70,000-12,000 years ago;  and the Holocene or present climatic era from 12,000 years ago to the present day. Human mandibles found at depth in the 1950s excavations have been shown to be fully ‘modern human’, i.e. Homo sapiens. The Haua Fteah cave therefore has a uniquely long cultural record of our species that is unrivalled at any current WHS site.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The Haua Fteah cave contains a unique record in North Africa and the Mediterranean region of the changing adaptability of our species to climate change over the past 150,000 years, and a uniquely long cultural record of our species that is unrivalled at any current WH site. The deep artefactual record of the Haua Fteah cave provides uniquely rich evidence for the three most significant stages in the prehistory of our species in North Africa Africa: the initial colonisation of the region by Homo sapiens populations with Middle Stone Age flake technologies 130,000 years ago; the evolution of MSA flake techologies into Late Stone Age blade technologies c.40,000 years ago; and the beginnings of farming in North Africa 10,000-7000 years ago.

Criterion (iii): The 1951-1955 excavations by the University of Cambridge established that the Haua Fteah cave contains a 14 metre-deep record of human occupation, dated at the time from c.80,000 years ago to recent centuries. The 2007-2015 excavations by the University of Cambridge have established that the occupation revealed in the 1950s in fact spans the last 150,000 years, so including the whole of the last glacial cycle (the last interglacial 130,000-70,000 years ago; the last glaciation 70,000-12,000 years ago;  and the Holocene or present climatic era from 12,000 years ago to the present day.  Human mandibles found at depth in the 1950s excavations have been shown to be fully ‘modern human’, i.e. Homo sapiens. The Haua Fteah cave therefore has a uniquely long cultural record of our species that is unrivalled at any current WH site.

Criterion (iv): The deep artefactual record of the Haua Fteah cave provides uniquely rich evidence for the three most significant stages in the prehistory of our species in North Africa: the initial colonisation of the region by Homo sapiens populations with Middle Stone Age flake technologies 130,000 years ago, when the humid interglacial climate enabled sub-Saharan populations to cross the desert (the ‘Green Sahara’) ; the evolution of MSA flake techologies into Late Stone Age blade technologies c. 40,000 years ago, whereas in the Near East and Europe the same process represented the replacement of Neanderthals by Homo sapiens;  and the beginnings of farming in North Africa 10,000-7000 years ago.

Criterion (v): The debate about how humans adapted (or failed to adapt) to climate change in the past suffers from the lack of case studies where high quality records of changes in human behaviour can be robustly compared with high quality records of changes in climate and environment. The two phases of archaeological excavation in the Haua Fteah, and the associated archaeological and biological science, have yielded both. The Haua Fteah cave contains a unique record in North Africa and the Mediterranean region of the changing adaptability of our species to climate change over the past 150,000 years.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

All the outstanding universal value attributes are represented in the site and archaeological artefacts recovered from the site. The nominated site does not suffer from any threats to the OUV and is a property under the authority of the Department of Antiquities (DOA), it is protected by the Antiquities Law No.3. The DOA has a local office at the district of Soussa overseeing the protection and excavation work at the site. The site lacks a proper defined buffer zone at the moment.

Comparison with other similar properties

The World Heritage List includes sites important for human evolution and fossil hominids (e.g. Pekin Man Site at Zhoukoudian, China; Sangiran Early Man Site, Indonesia; Archaeological Heritage of the Lenggong Valley, Malaysia; Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa). It includes several caves, or groups of sites including caves, where the primary reason for their inscription is prehistoric paintings and/or incised art on cave and rock shelter walls (e.g. Prehistoric Sites and Decorated Caves of the Vézère Valley, France; Cave and Ice Age Art in the Swabian Jura, Germany; Rock Art Sites of Tadrart Acacus, Libya; Prehistoric Rock Art Sites in the Coa Valley and Siega Verde, Portugal; Cave of Altamira and Palaeolithic Cave Art of Northern Spain). The recently inscribed Trang An Landscape Complex (Vietnam), on the nature/culture list, includes some small prehistoric caves with short occupation sequences dating to the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene (c. 30,000-10,000 years ago). The most similar site to the Haua Fteah is the Gorham’s Cave Complex (Gibraltar, UK list) but the primary reason for its inscription is its rich record of Neanderthal occupations dating to c. 100,000-40,000 years ago.  The Haua Fteah cave is unique in its exceptionally deep-time record of Homo sapiens, from 150,000 years ago to recent centuries.