Rising abruptly from the Punjab plains west of the River Jhelum and ending equally precipitously on the Indus River, one hundred and eighty kilometres in the west, the Salt Range is a long linear formation of sheer escarpments, jagged peaks, rolling hills and desolate ravines. Nestling between these hills, are fertile valleys scattered with lakes and irrigated by spring fed streams. The Salt Range originated 800 million years ago when evaporation of a shallow sea followed by under thrusting of the Indian Plate formed a range that stretched for about 300 kilometres. The range derives its name from the occurrence of the thickest seams of rock salt in the world embedded in the Precambrian bright red marls of the Salt Range Formation. The Salt Range constitutes a narrow zone of localized strong folding, faulting and uplift, in contrast to the open folds of low structural relief in the Potwar Plateau and no deformation at all in the immediately adjacent Punjab Plain.
It represents an open book of geology with richly fossiliferous stratified rocks that include Cambrian stratigraphy, a Permian carbonate succession with brachiopods, the Permian-Triassic boundary, Lower Triassic ammonite bearing beds (the Mianwali Formation, formerly known as "Ceratite Beds") and Lower Tertiary marine strata composed of age diagnostic foraminifera. All the strata are excellently exposed due to lack of vegetation. The quality of the exposure also provides excellent opportunities to appreciate tectonic features in the field and attracts geologists from all over the world to study Cambrian stratigraphy, the Permian-Triassic boundary, and Lower Tertiary foraminiferal biostratigraphy.
The area is rich in paleontological finds: large and small land mammals dating to some 18 million years ago when the climate of this area was wet and humid; ichno-fossil dinosaur trackways, which were imprinted in the limestone in the upper most part of the Middle Jurassic ; a wealth of Cretaceous belemnites in the form of a "graveyard"; the 14 million year old fossil remains of Deinotherium discovered at Choa Saidan Shah; 12.3 million year old fossilised hipbone from a prehistoric ape named Sivapithecus indicus and the 10 million year old Gigantopithecus. The fossil record of the Salt Range represents a diverse range of floral and faunal fossils including well preserved complete body fossils of invertebrate and vertebrate fauna, their skeletal grains, faunal molds and castes along with a large variety of ichno-fossils
Hominidae remains have been found in and on the northern side of the Salt Range reflecting the presence of the Old World Monkey Colobinae in Late Miocene deposits at Dhok Pathan, Domeli and Hasnote and Middle Late Miocene fossil remains of Dryopithecinae at Chinji.The first evidence of human presence in the Salt Range is found in the Soan River valley where hundreds of edged pebble tools were discovered dated to the Lower Palaeolithc (500,000 – 125,000 bp). Nearby at Khaur a complete lower jaw is evidence of Rampithicus punjabicus living in the Potwar just north of the Salt Range as recently as 8 million years ago.
Within the Salt Range there is a dense clustering of historical sites and places ranging in date from the 4th c. when Alexander the Great fought his last battle with Raja Porus at the bank of Jehlum River, through the Hindu Shahi period, the Mughal Empire to the era of Sikh rule and the British Colonial occupation. Fortresses, monasteries and temple complexes such as Kafirkot and Malot (9th – 19th c.), Nandna, Tilla Jogian and the World Heritage site of Rohtas perch on high mountain platforms overlooking important passes through the Salt Range. Habitation sites and ancient centers of religious pilgrimage such as Katas Raj and Mari Indus, early Mughal sites such as Takht-e-Babri, the throne of Emperor Babar and his Bagh-e-Safa considered to be the first Mughal Garden in Asia, are found in Kallar Kahar in the middle of the Salt Range. Step wells, stone lined tanks, sacred ponds and banyans (Ficus indica) and groves spanning many periods are scattered across the landscape. However, the place which best illustrates the interplay between culture and nature, man and the geology of the Salt Range, is Khewra, one of the world’s richest salt deposits, where salt has been exploited for at least a thousand years. The Precambrian salt reserves at Khewra were known when Alexander the Great crossed the Jhelum and Mianwali region during his Indian campaign. During the Mughal era the salt was traded in various markets, as far away as Central Asia. On the downfall of the Mughal empire, the Khewra mine was taken over by Sikhs and then by the British who industriaized its running and it continues to function on a large scale today as a mine, research and tourism centre.
The Salt Range represents an open book of geology with richly fossiliferous stratified rocks. All strata are clearly exposed and this quality of the exposure also provides excellent opportunities to appreciate tectonic features in the field. The Salt Range is, therefore, of great international scientific and educational value. “Geological World Heritage: A Global Framework” (IUCN 2005) identified 13 major thematic areas in a broad conceptual framework for geological World Heritage. The Salt Range fulfils three of these: 1. Tectonic and structural features Elements of global-scale crustal dynamics 2. Stratigraphic sites Rock sequences that provide a record of key earth history events. 3. Fossil sites The record of life on Earth represented within the fossil record This mountainous landscape has served as a backdrop to thousands of years of historical events, religious ceremony and contemplation, marching armies and the passage of new ideas and peoples. Throughout these millennia the salt at the heart of the mountain has been tunnelled and dug for use and trade by changing communities as the Khewra salt works have linked nature to culture in the Salt Range.
Criterion (v): The Salt Range and Khewra Salt Mine are an outstanding example of a traditional land-use which is representative of human interaction with the environment. This mountainous landscape has served as a backdrop to thousands of years of historical events, religious ceremony and contemplation, marching armies and the passage of new ideas and peoples. Throughout these millennia the salt at the heart of the mountain has been tunnelled and dug for use and trade by changing communities as the Khewra salt works have linked nature to culture in the Salt Range
Criterion (viii): The Salt Range is an exceptional example of features of earth science that provide an accessible and comprehensive stratigraphy of “deep time” of the planet illuminated with dramatic assemblages of fossils from all periods. As a record of major stages of earth’s history and the record of life the values it conveys are “of enormous scientific interest and also form links to the origins of the planet and to human ancestry.”
The Khewra Salt Mine is the sum of accumulated changes and developments over the many centuries of its operation. It summarizes an authentic story of these changes and continuing exploitation of the salt resources by different groups populating the Salt Range landscape. The cultural values of the property are truthfully and credibly expressed through: location and setting; use and function; a series of changing traditions, techniques and management systems; and the spirit and feeling of the place.
The boundary of the property is based on the geological and geographical limits of the mountain range and its adjacent slopes and cliffs. As such, it includes all elements necessary to express its Outstanding Universal Value as both a natural and cultural property. All bio-physical processes and landform features are relatively intact. The property is large enough to ensure complete representation of the geological and cultural features and processes which convey its significance. The property is widely impacted by centuries of human intervention and cultural activity but the overall integrity of the Salt Range and its features has not been compromised by development or neglect.
There are a number of mountain ranges on the World Heritage list as mixed natural and cultural properties such as the Pyrenees-Mont Perdu (France and Spain 1997) combining geological features with traditional agricultural patterns. There are also properties such as the Dolomites (Italy 2009) inscribed in part for the evidence they provide of Mesozoic carbonate platforms, of “fossilized atolls” and the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks (Canada 1984/90) inscribed for the Burgess Shale which preserves a significant fossil record of a diverse, abundant marine community dominated by soft-bodied organisms. The “grand exposure” of rocks at Joggins Fossil Cliffs (Canada 2008) contains the best and most complete known fossil record of terrestrial life in the iconic “Coal Age”: the Pennsylvanian (or Carboniferous) period in Earth’s history.
The Salt Range stands out for its continuous fossil record of almost 20 million years of life of various forms preserved in varied contexts culminating in Hominidae remains and a fully developed Lower Palaeolithic culture of stone tool makers.
The same continuity is seen in the long history of salt extraction at Khewra and other smaller mines in the Salt Range. The precise date when mining of salt began has yet to be established but it may well de more than 2000 years ago. Among World Heritage properties, the Wieliczka and Bochnia Royal Salt Mines (Poland 1978/2008/2013) illustrate the historic stages of the development of mining techniques in Europe, from the 13th to the 20th centuries. The OUV of the Cornwall and West Devon Mining Landscape (UK 2006) rests in how it dislays the way that the landscape was transformed in the 18th and early 19th centuries as a result of the rapid growth of pioneering tin and copper mining. These are both outstanding examples of properties that focus on specific time periods and socio-economic contexts.
In the region, archaeologists have recently shown that the Duzdagi salt deposits, situated in the Araxes Valley in Azerbaijan, were already being exploited from the second half of the 5th millennium BC., but no information is available regarding the type or duration of exploitation. They appear to have ceased operation a long time ago and so cannot claim the continuity of the Khewra Mine or show changes and development over the centuries.
None of these properties carries OUV based on the same combination of attributes seen in The Salt Range and Khewra Salt Mine: tectonic and structural elements of global-scale crustal dynamics; a long and fossil rich sequence of rock stratigraphy that provides a record of key earth history events; a landscape full of significant historical places and features reflecting multiple layers of historical use and cultural meaning, and, in particular a salt works in continuous use for centuries.