The Rock Art of the Emirate of Sharjah
Ministry of Culture and Youth of the United Arab Emirates
Emirate of Sharjah
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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party
Kalba, Khatm Al-Melaha
N 24º 59' 21.04" E 56º 20' 50.59"
N 25º 22' 26.96" E 56º 20' 36.09"
N 25º 22' 48.85" E 56º 21' 22.65"
Khorfakkan, Wadi Shie
N 25º 20' 49.65" E 56º 19' 37.92"
The rock art of Sharjah Emirate is the first rock art discovered in the whole of the Al-Hajar Mountains, it is a very interesting and varied thematic palimpsest, characterized by a wide number of motifs and engraving techniques spanning seven millennia.
This tentative list includes the rock art found at Khatm Al-Melaha in Kalba City, and various locations in Khor Fakkan, including Al-Modaify, Luluya, and Wadi Shie. These sites are protected by fences or marked by the very visible presence of the Archaeology Authority panels indicating to visitors that the place is protected by law.
Four main chronological phases have been tentatively identified. The first figurative phase, clearly recognizable in Khatm Al-Melaha, and Al-Modayfi, is that of the figures of wild asses and to a lesser extent of wild goats. These animals represent the Equus hemionus hemippus, also known as the Syrian wild ass. In this ancient period, probably during the 5th millennium BCE, they were possibly hunted, although they are never depicted within hunting scenes. The Syrian wild ass is today extinct, but in the past it was present from the Near East and south into the Arabian Peninsula, including Sharjah, as supported by their presence within engraved images in the rock art. Remains of wild asses in Neolithic archaeological contexts are usually classified as Equus africanus, for example at the Neolithic site of Al Buhais 18 in Sharjah, but the recent discovery of Equus hemionus at the Gulf coastal site of Dosariyah, in Saudi Arabia, confirms the presence of hemiones in the region.
The second figurative phase, dated to the 4th millennium BCE, is represented by animals, mainly wild goats/ibexes, depicted in a particular style called the “three-strokes style”. In some cases, the figures in the three-stroke style are associated with schematic human figures with triangular arms and legs.
The animals depicted in this style always cover the wild ass figures depicted in the first phase, but they are always superimposed by “T” figures that belong to the third figurative phase that can be dated to the 3rd and the 2nd millennium BCE. The T-shaped figure is a common subject in the rock art of Al-Hajar mountains: it consists of a capital T-shaped engraving that, because of its simple form, may have several different representations. In fact, since the beginning of the research concerning this subject, its interpretation has intrigued scholars. The lower part of the T-shaped figure, the stem, may have a stick shape, an oval or a sub-triangular form. In most cases this portion is straight, but sometimes it maybe a little curved. The upper part of the T, conversely, may be lunate in shape, straight, or relatively linear. Occasionally, a ring is depicted attached to the stem. T-shaped figures in Al-Hajar mountain rock art are almost always engraved in a vertical position, like a capital T and can occur in isolation or in association with other similar figures, as in Luluya. “T” figures have been interpreted as a palm tree, a battle axe and even a bird. Anati, in his study of the Jebel Qara rock art in Saudi Arabia, suggests that this T-shaped figure can represent a dagger, a weapon, that presents comparisons with examples from Anatolia (Alaça Hüyük), Southern Mesopotamia (Ur) and Syria. Anati suggested a date of the middle 3rd millennium BCE for the use of this dagger. These weapons, which clearly represented a status symbol strongly correlated with this particular rock art, are sometimes represented in the same manner as in the Luluya T figures, occasionally with an elongated blade, sometimes with an oval or triangular blade. The presence of these weapons is possibly due to the presence of the copper industry in the Hajar Mountains area during that period. In Luluya rock art the T figures are sometimes associated with representations of hands and circles with internal dots. The figures of abstract art therefore also belong to this phase. In addition to the circles with or without internal dots or cross, there are also concentric circles sometimes with rays, spirals, zigzag, meanders, tree-like, rectangular, and sub-rectangular shapes, lines, stars, and so on. The study of the superimpositions confirms that some of these figures appear to be concentrated in the 2nd millennium BCE or even later. In Khatm Al-Melaha abstract elements (zig-zag shapes) cover a wild ass figure which is considerably re-varnished. Some human figures with a rounded lower portion of the torso, possibly representing the belly, are often associated with abstract art. This particular style of anthropomorphic figures appears both in Khatm Al-Melaha and in Al-Modaify.
In all likelihood, some non-three-strokes styles figures of animals with horns (ibexes, gazelles) with an empty body and a closed contour line, leaving only the part close to the head open are also attributed to this phase. Some footprint figures can also be assigned to this phase, but this theme can also be attributed to later periods.
The last period of Sharjah rock art, the fourth figurative phase, is divided into two sub-phases A and B, spans a long period, from the end of the 2nd millennium BCE until a few decades ago. The themes represented are not many but are characterized by the presence of camels, both dromedaries and Bactrian camels or hybrids, and horses, almost always ridden and usually difficult to date, of figures of boats and of rare letters/inscriptions in the Ancient South Arabian Alphabet and some inscriptions in Kufic or Naskh Arabic. A particular theme attributed to the fourth figurative phase of Sharjah rock art is that of ships. Only three figures are known so far, two of which located in Wadi Shie. In both cases they are far away from the sea and deep inside the Al-Hajar Mountains, reflecting the importance of maritime activities in the region. The types of ships identifiable in the rock art of Sharjah, the so-called badan, single or double-masted maritime ships, are still very popular today.
All the sites are easily accessible by visitors. This is certainly important because it can encourage tourists who travel to the Emirates to visit the sites. In other places in the world, it is known that rock art is found in remote locations, often at quite a distance from the closest access.
Currently, there are a number of scholars that are working on the rock art of Sharjah. Their research and fieldwork will surely result in a significant contribution to the recognition of the scientific and heritage values of these rock engravings, representing one of the oldest visible manifestations of the cultural past of this area in its original context.
It is also relevant to underline that the most interesting site, Khatm Al-Melaha, the first rock art site discovered, still represents an important landmark in today's landscape, close to the border with the Sultanate of Oman. The concentration of rock art at this site as also at the site of Al Modaify provide indication of the special importance that these sites had in the cultural landscape of the region in antiquity.
Justification of Outstanding Universal Value
The tentative listing includes some of the main rock art groups found in the Emirate, due to their relative proximity and stylistic homogeneity within the various chronological phases from the 5th millennium BCE until the fourth figurative phase that spans a long period, from the end of the 2nd millennium BCE until a few decades ago. Hundreds of rock art figures are found at Khatm Al- Melaha in Kalba City, as well as Al-Modaify, Luluya, and Wadi Shieh in Khorfakkan. Together, they possess great scientific significance based on the history of archaeological research in the region, as one of them (Khatm Al-Melaha) is the first site in South eastern Arabia to have been discovered and published.The continuity of Sharjah Rock Art from the earliest periods to recent times, their complexity, and the presence of unusual or unique figures which are completely absent from other rock art groups in the region, make the ensemble of Sharjah’s rock art exceptional. The use of boulders detached from local rock outcrops as the basis of this rock art is a characteristic found in Sharjah. It provides an iconographic basis to our understanding of past societies in the Arabian Peninsula. It provides an immense figurative archive that can be used to better understand historical and economic events, traditions, and religious beliefs among many other facets of past societies.
Criterion (ii): The rock art of Sharjah illustrates, over a period of more than seven millennia, the activities and way of life of human groups that established their settlements in the region. Stylistic similarities between the rock art of Sharjah and the one found in the Hajar mountains of Oman and further afield, such as Yemen to the South, and Iran and Azerbaijan to the North, point to the existence of communication routes that allowed the movement of people, goods and ideas from one region to another over long periods of time. The similarities and differences between the rock art found in Sharjah and those from neighbouring areas show that stylistic and technological approaches to rock art travelled far and wide, but also that local circumstances allowed the development of specific motifs, such as the representation of animals in styles that are not known elsewhere in the region.
Criterion (iii): The motifs, both abstract and naturalistic, observed in the rock art of Sharjah, are an exceptional testimony to a tradition that can be traced back to the 5th millennium BCE. The motifs that characterize the four chronological phases recognized by archaeologists, open a window into the cultural and social practices of the ancient societies that have left their mark across the landscape. Although similar compositions are visible in nearby regions, it is their continuity from the earliest periods to recent times, their complexity, and the presence of unusual or unique figures, such as canids with elaborate tails in al Modaify that are unique or animals with particular naturalistic and dynamic styles as in Khatm Al-Melaha, which are completely absent from other rock art groups in the region, that make the ensemble of Sharjah’s rock art exceptional. The association of various rock art groups to important archaeological sites provides further opportunities to interpret the rock art motifs within a precise cultural and chronological framework.
Statements of authenticity and/or integrityAuthenticity
The rock art of the various sites considered for inclusion on the World Heritage List exhibits a high degree of conservation due to the arid environment and low population densities. The settings and locations of the rock art sites have not been affected by significant encroachments. The rock art located in Khatm Al-Melaha, and other sites is found in the original place where it was carved millennia ago. The landscape of many of the sites has not changed for centuries while the stones and boulders where the figures were carved have only changed their surface appearance due to the addition of a glossy patina that is characteristic of this type of rock. The carvings clearly showcase the different techniques that were used during their creation, since they were not defaced or modified in later times, allowing the archaeologists to reconstruct at least four phases of rock art over seven millennia.
All the sites included in this tentative listing preserve their integrity. All are protected under Law(4) of 2020 on Sharjah Cultural Heritage. Few cases of modern graffiti are found in the vicinity of the rock art, but in general all the sites are in good condition. There are some elements of encroachment from modern activities to the south and west of Khatm Al-Melaha, although the site itself is not threatened, as it is fenced.
Most of the rock art in Sharjah is found on boulders of various dimensions. Some show cracks that are being monitored, although conservation intervention has not been deemed necessary for the moment. As rainfall is scarce, so is the vegetation: no mosses, lichens, or plants are found on or near the boulders. The boulders and the engraved figures have not been retouched, and no modern interventions have modified, displaced or removed the original rocks. Some smaller boulders may have been displaced due to erosion or human intervention. As an example, the boulder observed by Thomas in 1931 cannot be located today. These, however, are exceptions, as there is little indication that stones have been systematically removed or displaced at the various rock art sites.
Comparison with other similar properties
Most of the engravings are etched on boulders and not on outcrops rocks and this is quite peculiar as in both Oman and Saudi Arabia the engravings are mostly on outcrops or wadi cliffs. There are obvious similarities with the rock art of the Al-Hajar Mountains in Oman and Musandam, but also differences, especially some figurative styles that are completely unknown in Oman or Saudi Arabian rock art. One of such differences, for example, are the animals with a particular naturalistic and dynamic style, as in Al-Modaify and Khatm Al-Melaha.
The chronological sequence is very similar to the one found in the rest of the Al-Hajar Mountains, excluding the phase with sea turtles and anemones / sea stars, which is absent, but this absence may only be due to incomplete surveys and documentation.
The most ancient phases of rock art are much more prominent here than in other parts of the Al- Hajar Mountains with numerous engravings of animals that are now extinct (Syrian wild Ass), disappeared from the region (Oryx), or very rare (Ibex). For the second phase, 4th millennium BCE, animal figures find the best comparisons in Shenah and Wadi Bani Kharous in Oman.
The “T” figure of the third phase, third-second millennium BCE, is common in the Hajar Mountains of Oman and is well known also in other rock art sites of the Arabian Peninsula, as in southwest Saudi Arabia and Yemen. This figure can also be associated to the daggers etched on the anthropomorphized stele (sculpted monoliths) that occur in several regions from the most western part of Europe, through Central Europe, the Balkans, the Ponto Region, to Anatolia, the northern and the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula, precisely during the 3rdand the 2ndmillennium BCE. A similar type of dagger, probably the best regional comparison, is present also in the Yemenite warrior stele dated to the end of the 3rd millennium BCE. These weapons are clearly objects identified as a status symbols which have a strong correlation with this particular “megalithic art” and are sometimes represented in the same manner as in the Luluya “T” figures, occasionally represented with an elongated blade, other times with an oval or triangular blade. Some anthropomorphic figures are occasionally associated with the abstract art within this chronological phase, with parallels found in Bilad Seyt, Wadi Tanuf and Hajermaat in Oman.
In conclusion, although similarities are evident between the rock art of Sharjah and the Hajar mountains in Oman, important differences are also evident, such as the preference to engrave figures on boulders rather than rock faces, the frequency of figures belonging to the most ancient phases of rock art in the region, and the presence of figurative styles that are completely unknown in other rock art sites of the Hajar mountains or Saudi Arabia.