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Date of Submission: 26/07/2020
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
United Arab Emirates National Commission for Education, Culture, and Science
State, Province or Region:
Ras Al-Khaimah
Coordinates: N25 49 39.52 E56 1 51.76
Ref.: 6466

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Shimal represents a dense archaeological landscape extending along the foothills of the Ru’us-al-Jabal mountains for over 3 km. It is characterized by gravel plains with acacia forests, which are overlooked by Ras al-Khaimah’s limestone mountains. In the west, Shimal borders the large palm garden areas on the fertile alluvial plain of both Wadi Bih and Wadi Haqil.

The extensive cultural site consists of more than 100 prehistoric tombs, prehistoric settlements, and a medieval palace. Its archaeological remains are outstanding for the Wadi Suq Period (2000-1600 BC), the Late Bronze Age Culture (1600-1300 BC), and the Middle Islamic Period (13th-16th century AD).

For more than 5000 years, starting with the Hafit Period (3200-2600 BC) and lasting until the 19th century AD, the territory of Shimal witnessed and participated in the unique cultural traditions, which developed along the crossroads of ancient trade between the Gulf, Indian Ocean, and Southeast Arabia.

The chief assets of Shimal are:

1) A prehistoric cemetery with Umm an-Nar tombs (2600-2000 BC)

Two circular tombs from the Umm an-Nar Period representing the largest funerary structures of Southeast Arabia have been excavated in Shimal. Their sophisticated architecture, and large number of several hundred interred individuals in each tomb reflect the size and importance of Ras al-Khaimah’s harbour during the 3rd millennium BC. Its far-reaching trade connections are exemplified by the excavated grave goods, which include finds from Mesopotamia, Iran, and the Indus Valley.

2) A prehistoric cemetery with Wadi Suq tombs (2000-1600 BC)

Shimal comprises the largest cemetery of megalithic tombs in Southeast Arabia. Distributed over a length of 3 km, more than 100 graves from the Wadi Suq Culture are spread along the foot of the mountains.

Up to 20 m long, these elongated collective burials are predominantly built above ground. Enormous stones, often weighing up to one ton, form their significant corbelled roofs. There are different types, which reflect a development of funeral architecture over a length of 400 years.

These tombs are outstanding representatives of a vanished culture, and their unique architectural funerary traditions are exclusive to Ras al-Khaimah, and can only be found in this Emirate.

3) Prehistoric settlements from the Late Bronze Age (1600-1300 BC) and Early Iron Age (1300-900 BC)

The largest settlement of the Late Bronze Age Culture, which left little traces elsewhere in Southeast Arabia, is positioned within the site of Shimal. Protected by a wall, the settlement is located inside a valley, and along the mountain slopes.

The existence of large shell middens in its vicinity reflects the exploitation of nearby lagoons, which have since vanished. It is noteworthy that archaeological excavations inside these settlements were of prime importance for the initial definition of both the ‘Late Bronze Age’ and the ‘Early Iron Age’.

4) Islamic Palace/‘Queen of Sheba’s Palace’ (13th–16th century)

A Middle Islamic palace, built for the ruler of the medieval trading town of Julfar, is situated on a mountain plateau in Shimal. It represents an unparalleled monument for the region and time period combining defensive, domestic, and representative architectural traditions of the Middle Islamic Period.

5) Other sites inside the archaeological area

In the south, Shimal includes the remains of a cemetery dating to the Hafit Period (3200-2600 BC), while an Iron Age II settlement (1000-600 BC) is situated close to the palm gardens in the west. Furthermore, Shimal holds two sites with pottery kilns, which are significantly important for Ras al-Khaimah’s recent industrial past: one dating to the 17th/18th century AD can be found in the north, and a second kiln site dating to the 18th/19th century AD in the south of Shimal. Finally, a number of stone houses are spread along the foot of the limestone mountains representing the traditional form of housing in rural mountainous areas until the mid-20th century.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Shimal comprises the largest prehistoric cemetery of megalithic tombs in Southeast Arabia. Its monumental burial structures of the Wadi Suq period are not only unique in size, they also include a variety of architectural types, which cannot be found outside of the Emirate of Ras al-Khaimah.

Both the large Umm an-Nar tombs, which are up to 15 m in diameter holding several hundred individuals each, and the proportion of the Wadi Suq cemetery including more than 100 tombs signify that Ras al-Khaimah was a major cultural centre during the 3rd and 2nd millennium BC.

Furthermore, Shimal accommodates the largest Late Bronze Age settlement discovered so far, and the only medieval palace from the Middle Islamic period in Southeast Arabia.

Criterion (i): The megalithic tombs of the Wadi Suq Period are a masterpiece of human creative genius using a sophisticated and astounding technique of construction and corbelled roofing, which has not been found elsewhere.

Criterion (ii): A number of tombs have been archaeologically excavated, documented, and studied. Research and scientific work have confirmed that the characteristic elements and the diversity of Wadi Suq tomb architecture came originally into being in Shimal, and were exclusively developed in this place. They represent one of the most significant achievements of Ras al-Khaimah’s cultural past. Only during the late Wadi Suq Period, shortly before 1600 BC, this particular tradition of tomb architecture was eventually spread to the UAE’s east coast along the Indian Ocean.

Criterion (iii): The Wadi Suq tombs in Shimal are unique, and an exceptional testimony to a local funerary tradition, which cannot be found outside Ras al-Khaimah. They were built over a period of 400 years, and cover the entire Wadi Suq period. This, combined with the archaeological finds, makes Shimal the key site for the understanding of this particular prehistoric era, which is underrepresented in other parts of Southeast Arabia. 

Criterion (iv): 
Shimal’s medieval palace (‘Queen of Sheba’s Palace’) is an outstanding example for a Middle Islamic palace, not found elsewhere in Southeast Arabia, which illustrates the importance of the medieval trading town of Julfar. 

Criterion (v): Shimal’s settlements of the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age, including the shell middens they produced, are outstanding examples for traditional human settlements, and their land-/sea-use in a challenging environment of pre-oil Arabia. 

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Over a period of more than 20 years, archaeological fieldwork has been conducted in Shimal from the late 1970s onwards excavating, documenting, and studying the finds and architectural remains. All sites and monuments are the original remains, and as such exhibit complete authenticity.

In 1989, the Government of Ras al-Khaimah officially declared the site of Shimal a ‘Protected Archaeological Zone’. In addition to its prehistoric and historic monuments, the protected archaeological site of Shimal also incorporates the surrounding landscape and ecosystem including acacia forests, indigenous flora, and adjacent mountain range.

Shimal’s level of integrity is high. All elements of its prehistoric and historic past have been preserved and are included in this nomination.

Comparison with other similar properties

No further comparable sites exist in Southeast Arabia possessing this large concentration of up to 20 m long, elongated, megalithic tombs built above ground. Apart from Ras al-Khaimah, the United Arab Emirates and the Sultanate of Oman display different types of tomb architecture and funerary traditions during the Wadi Suq Period.

Worldwide no other megalithic tombs exist, which are covered using a system of corbelled roofing that consists of three to four layers of large stone slabs. In all other cases single flat stones or single large boulders cover megalithic funerary structures being exemplified in Japan, Korea, northern Arabia, and northern Europe.

The medieval palace dating to the Middle Islamic period is also a unique monument of the archaeological site of Shimal, and the only example of its kind in Southeast Arabia.