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Petroglyphic Complexes in the Mongolian Gobi

Date of Submission: 19/12/2014
Criteria: (iii)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Mongolian National Commission for UNESCO
Ref.: 5954

The Tentative Lists of States Parties are published by the World Heritage Centre at its website and/or in working documents in order to ensure transparency, access to information and to facilitate harmonization of Tentative Lists at regional and thematic levels.

The sole responsibility for the content of each Tentative List lies with the State Party concerned. The publication of the Tentative Lists does not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever of the World Heritage Committee or of the World Heritage Centre or of the Secretariat of UNESCO concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its boundaries.

Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


1.  Petroglyphic complex of Del Uul mountain

Ulziit soum, Dundgovi province

N44 27 12.3 E105 47 26.4     

2.  Petroglyphic complex of Bichigtiin Am

Bayanlig soum, Bayankhongor province

N44 17 11.8 E100 31 20.7

3.  Petroglyphic complex of Javkhlant Khairkhan mountain

Khanbogd soum, Umnugovi province

N42 53 36.5 E106 53 36.5

Petroglyphs considered as one of the most widespread cultural heritage of the world, and Mongolia is one of the countries that rich with it. The following three petroglyphic complexes are outstanding representatives of the petroglyphs in the Mongolian Gobi.

 1. Petroglyphic complex of Del Uul mountain
The mountain Del Uul, stretches 25 km from east to west and is located in the territory of Ulziit soum, Dundgobi province. From its lower base to the peak the eastern face of the mountain is covered with petroglyphs of various types of animals, human beings and symbols that engraved in different historical time period. Animal images such as ibexes, horses, riders, camel, and anthropomorphic images are the most common.

2. Petroglyphic complex of Bichigtiin Am
The petroglyphs of Bichigtiin Am are entirely concentrated on a one small rocky mountain rising abruptly from the deep valley of Bichigtiin Am, Ikh Bayan mountain of Bayanlig soum, Bayankhongor province. There are hundreds of images of human beings, animals and symbols (tamga) there were engraved by the prehistoric people on the rocks. The first petroglyphs were likely to have been made approximately 3000 years ago BCE and people had continued to add illustrations until the 8th century CE.  

Men riding horse or camel with horse, cattle and camel herds as well as hunting scenes and men with carts are common image among these rock arts. Men are illustrated riding horse with or without saddle. An image of cattle pulling a plough and man directing it is one of the rare artefacts    related to farming found in Mongolian Gobi region.

3. Petroglyphic complex of Javkhlant Khairkhan mountain
The mountain of Javkhlant Khairkhan is higher than the mountains nearby. West of this mountain there are two hills in line, in south there is a wide steppe and in north there is a valley and dry river – this landscape make this mountain special and important. Therefore the local herders venerate and worship this mountain naming as “Khairkhan” and they maintain an ovoo (cairn) on its peak. This is connected with ancient peoples’ beliefs and worship as well – they engraved hundreds of petroglyphs on the rocks of this mountain. There are over 200 petroglyphic scenes of which most of them are engraved at the top.

Roughly depicted images of human beings, animals, suns and other objects date them back to the Eneolithic time period, the transition period from stone tool production to bronze tool production. It is particularly notable that the three mountains of Javkhlant Khairkhan are drawn on one of the rocks of this mountain.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The three sites of “Petroglyphic complexes of the Mongolian Gobi” are outstanding representatives of the culture, art and religious beliefs of the Bronze Age peoples who lived in the Mongolian Gobi and its neighbouring areas. These three complex sites are not only a prominent evidence of the civilization and historical evolution of the North-eastern Asian nomads but also reflections of the culture, tradition, ritual and art that had been developed and followed by them for hundreds of years starting about 4000 years ago.

Criterion (iii): The three petroglyphic complex sites are exceptional and genuine evidences of the Bronze Age Central Asian nomads’ belief, sacrificial practice, culture and art of which greatly developed and disappeared in the 4th – 1st millennium BCE on the territory of what is now Mongolia and its neighbouring countries.

Through the studies on the civilization and prehistory of the Central and North-eastern Asia these complex sites are found to have international significance. The petroglyphs of the Mongolian Gobi are evidences of some either currently existing or disappearing cultural traditions and civilizations and becoming an exceptional model of the heritage places that demonstrate the significant periods of history. In this way these are considered to have an outstanding universal value and have been proposed for the inclusion in to the Tentative List.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Authenticity: Since the beginning of the 20th century researchers started to conduct investigations and make academic publications on these three petroglyphic complexes of the Mongolia Gobi. The surface archaeological features have been subjected to professional mapping, cataloguing and documented in many scientific publications, through the field work of the Mongolian National Institute of Archaeology and foreign scientific organizations. These publications included many descriptions that meet necessary academic requirements. Petroglyphs of the Mongolian Gobi (Del Uul Mountain, Bichigtiin Am and Javkhlant Khairkhan Mountain) have been studied in detail.  

Integrity: All of these complex sites have kept their original integrity and authenticity. These three serial component parts of the proposed property include the full array of its outstanding cultural values and attributes. The proposed boundary follows natural and cultural features encompassing the entire petroglyphic areas. There are no significant pressures or treats to the Outstanding Universal Value or attributes of the property. In compliance with heritage law and regulations the proposed sites are under the protection of the state and local community.

Comparison with other similar properties

The Petroglyphic complexes of the Mongolian Gobi can be compared to the Petroglyph sites inscribed in the World Heritage List: Ecosystem and Relict Cultural Landscape of Lopé-Okanda –Gabon,  Rock Drawings in Valcamonica – Italy, Wadi Rum Protected Area – Jordan, Petroglyphs within the Archaeological Landscape of Tamgaly – Kazakhstan, Petroglyphic Complexes of the Mongolian Altai, Twyfelfontein or /Ui-//aes – Namibia; and with Petroglyph sites submitted in the Tentative List: Daegokcheon Stream Petroglyphs – Republic of Korea, Sarmishsay – Uzbekistan, Petroglyphs of Eshkiolmes – Kazakhstan, Petroglyphs of Sikachi-Alyan – Russian Federation.

These are similar in many characteristics: number, size, theme, semantic and depicted method but there are some differences. A significant number of petroglyphs that related to ancient peoples’ belief are found rather than other petroglyph sites. This shows that this specific Gobi region had its own unique culture during the late Stone Age, Eneolithic and Bronze Age. For example, petroglyphs of Javkhlant Khairkhan Mountain distinguish with their remarkable style of depiction which makes them of the rarest and most mysterious heritage. These are dated back to the Eneolithic. Very few archaeological sites of this period have been found so far and that means petroglyphs of Javkhlant Khairkhan Mountain are invaluable heritage site for retracing the history of intellectual development of the people who lived during the Eneolithic.

Images of many horse and camels are very important data to trace the way of life of the Gobi desert nomads. There are few instances of camel images that found on mountain rocks of Mongolia, Inner Mongolia (Mandal mountain) and Kazakhstan (Eshkimolmes mountain), but camels on the rocks of Bichigtiin Am differentiate by their great number and sizes. For the ancient nomadic people the petroglyphic site of Bichigtiin Am, Bayanlig soum, Bayankhongor province, was a special place to make sacrificial and ritual ceremonies. This site contains a great number of images that are all together concentrated at one specific place. This is the biggest difference from other petroglyphic sites in Mongolia and its neighbouring countries.

The petroglyph subjects of the Mongolian Gobi remained virtually unchanged from the Bronze Age to the end of the Early Iron Age; however, petroglyphs underwent significant changes in terms of semantics and methods of execution.

In Mongolia, the proposed sites can be compared with the Petroglyphic Complexes of the Mongolian Altai, which were inscribed in the WHL in 2011. These are similar in their number of images, themes, compositions and depictions method. However, different images in terms of their artistic as well as productive types that associated with ancient peoples’ belief are the main distinctive character of the proposed sites. A considerable number of this type of images are found within the region rather than other parts of the country, which shows the region had been a unique cultural centre during the end of the Eneolithic and during the Bronze Age.