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Faya Palaeolandscape

Date de soumission : 01/02/2023
Critères: (iii)(iv)
Catégorie : Culturel
Soumis par :
Ministry of Culture and Youth of the United Arab Emirates
État, province ou région :
Central Sharjah Region, Emirate of Sharjah
Coordonnées N25 07 08 E55 50 49
Ref.: 6653

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The Faya Palaeolandscape is located in the Central Region of the Emirate of Sharjah at an approximate distance of 55 kilometres to both, the Arabian Gulf to the West and the Gulf of Oman to the East. The property is defined by different landscape components and geomorphological features characterising this distinct location. The most fundamental element of the property is an anticline structure extending approximately 20 kilometres from the northeast to the southwest of the property known as Faya Range. It can be seen as a natural barrier between the Rub-al Khali sand desert to its west and the Dhaid-Madam Plain to its east.

The Faya Range is a chain of limestone outcrops called jebels, which not only illustrate distinct geomorphological and hydrological characteristics but also provided a favourable environment for human habitation within the larger hyper arid desert environment. The geological formations show three layers of rock (ophiolite, around 93 million years (MA) old; conglomerate, 76 to 68 MA; and limestone, 74 to 66 MA) that emerged from beneath the Tethys Ocean during the Cretaceous through tectonic collision of the Arabian and Eurasian plate. The jebels are rich in raw materials, especially flint. In periods of increased rainfall, they act as barriers for surface and underground water originating from the Hajar Mountains. As a result, springs form at the base of the Faya range and offer a significant source of water. This interaction of advantageous geomorphological features enabled multiple human occupation phases within the Faya Palaeolandscape, starting in the Early Middle Palaeolithic about 210,000 years ago and until the Neolithic about 5,000 years ago.

The archaeological sites within the property provide evidence for intermittent human settlements during several different climatic periods throughout the Stone Age. Through the advantageous availability of water for plant and animal communities and direct access to water from springs, wadis, and palaeo-lakes, settlement conditions for early modern humans were favourable in the property. Pleistocene and Holocene water catchment sources remain visible today through geological landmarks. Continuous research has also allowed the understanding of climatic evolution and geomorphodynamics, which have impacted human occupations during the Stone Age. The different caves and occupation sites across the anticline structure provide physical evidence of human shelters, tools, life, and burials.

The property presents one of the earliest and most continuous stratigraphic evidences of early human occupation on the Arabian Peninsula. Due to climatic changes, living conditions shifted significantly over the past 210,000 years within the Faya Palaeolandscape ranging from pluvial river landscapes to hyper-arid desert environments with significant scarcity of water. Faya Palaeolandscape shows evidence of human habitation within the area, even during a hyper-arid setting, reflecting the outstanding capability of early modern humans to adapt to the most challenging conditions in a desert environment on the Arabian Peninsula.

Justification de la Valeur Universelle Exceptionnelle

The Faya Palaeolandscape encompasses an outstanding example of a Stone Age desert landscape documenting early modern human occupation of the area from the Early Middle Palaeolithic to the Neolithic during varying climatic conditions on the Arabian Peninsula. 

The archaeological and palaeoenvironmental findings within the property represent one of the earliest and most continuous stratigraphic records of human occupation of an erratic desert landscape. With the oldest archaeological layer dating back approximately 210,000 years to the Early Middle Palaeolithic and the youngest to the Neolithic, about 5,000 years ago, the site illustrates several subsequent stages of human habitation. The evolution process from hunter- gatherer groups to pastoral nomadic herders with funeral practices allowed for new insights into human adaptation to their inhabited landscapes in extreme climates. The property further represents outstanding conditions for archaeological and palaeoenvironmental research, which contributes to the understanding of human responses to hyper-arid environments and evolving climatic conditions over millennia. Short climatic changes, in some periods every 20,000 years, made the area oscillate between an arid desert and a pluvial environment with water gathering in lakes and flowing along the wadi channels. Geomorphological features along the Faya range document these processes. In particular, the hydrogeological features detail the prehistoric water catchment systems both underground and on surface, which were essential for repeated human occupation. Early modern human groups used the available geomorphology and the linked ecotone setting on an intermittent basis for shelter, the extraction of raw materials, water collection, hunting and later animal husbandry as well as funerary practices. The extraordinary combination of the availability of water sources, raw material as well as shelters makes the Faya Palaeolandscape one of the earliest inhabited desert landscapes. The Faya Palaeolandscape fills a knowledge gap in the understanding of early human development and adaptation in the desert of the Arabian Peninsula and its habitation even during hyper-arid climatic conditions.

Criterion (iii): The Faya Palaeolandscape bears an exceptional testimony to subsequent stages of habitation from the Early Middle Palaeolithic to the Neolithic on the Arabian Peninsula. With the earliest findings dating to approximately 210,000 years ago, the archaeological sites in the property illustrate different layers of intermittent habitation in Arabia during Marine Isotope Stages 6, 5, 3 and 2. The rich stratigraphic evidence excavated at the archaeological sites along the Faya Range demonstrates a frequent and periodic occupation of the property over time. Even though periods of temporary abandonment coincide with periods of harsh climatic conditions, archaeological findings testify that occupation also occurred during hyper-arid conditions. Therefore, the Faya Palaeolandscape illustrates the remarkable skill of early modern humans to adapt to their environment and its extreme climatic conditions to an extent unparalleled elsewhere. With multiple archaeological sites within the area, the property offers an exceptional opportunity to understand the occupation and adaptation of early hominin groups during the Palaeolithic and Neolithic to their surrounding on the Arabian Peninsula.

Criterion (iv): The Faya Palaeolandscape is an outstanding example of a Stone Age desert landscape typology, which facilitated habitation of early modern humans during the Stone Age. The desert landscape environment still visible today provides an understanding of the habitation and adaptation patterns of human groups in Arabia from the terminal Middle Pleistocene to the Holocene. The Faya Palaeolandscape’s notable sedimentological records reflecting the evolution of palaeoenvironmental conditions during different Marine Isotope Stages, provide an outstanding location for palaeo- climate research as well as studies on the earliest forms of human adaptation to this environment over time. Due to its location at the unique interplay of fluvial and aeolian processes, Palaeolithic hunter-gatherer groups and Neolithic herders could exploit an ecotone setting that enabled their survival under a range of climatic conditions through a favourable interplay of changes in both natural and cultural environments. Key geostrategic locations for palaeolandscape research are documented across the Faya anticline, which was affected by both global periods of growing and melting ice covers through related aridity and humidity as well as by changing effects of the seasonal monsoons. The impacts of water availability are documented by Late Pleistocene and Holocene alluvial fan gravels and wadi terrace deposits distributed across the property. These are still visible today and allow for a profound understanding of the location of wadis, springs, and palaeo-lakes between the jebels, as well as the distribution of freshwater, vegetation, and animals across the area. Climatic variations documented in geological features have facilitated not only human occupation over millennia but also documented specific phenomena in the Earth’s environmental development.

Déclarations d’authenticité et/ou d’intégrité


The nominated property includes all attributes required to express the Outstanding Universal Value as defined above and is of adequate size to encompass these. All archaeological and geological features remain in their environmental context and location. The significant attributes have been well investigated, and their relevance in the global framework of understanding the development of early human climatic adaptation patterns in the area is well recognized. Most attributes remain intact and research activities have not disturbed the value stemming from their position in the landscape. Deposits remain in situ for each of the archaeological excavation sites. The direct correlation of archaeological sites and water sources has turned the property into a complex mosaic of interrelated cultural and natural attributes that convey structural integrity. The contemporary arid landscape no longer involves active surface water flows coming from the western flanks of the Hajar Mountains. However, the Inland Basin allows underground water to channel through the Dhaid-Madam Plain and reach Wadi Yudayyah, which drains water westwards towards the Arabian Gulf. The visual integrity is largely in place with exception of power lines passing through the northern desert environment of the property. In view of urban development pressures, the protection of the Faya Palaeolandscape in all its attributes is to be consistently emphasized in future planning schemes.


Faya Palaeolandscape is overall well preserved and has retained its defining desert landscape typology, including the Faya range climatic barrier and the pristine sand dunes of the Rub al-Khali, illustrating a variety of dune types. Apart from smaller developments such as farms, there have been few inevitable changes within the area during the last millennia. However, these do not reduce the overall very high degree of authenticity regarding the desert landscape features. For the most part, the visual appearance of the Faya Palaeolandscape and its function as a desert landscape without any major destruction of the site has been preserved. The remarkable character of the environment has not changed significantly since the Meghalayan age of the Holocene in terms of climatic conditions and distribution of palaeo-lakes, water springs, wadis, and alluvial fans. The archaeological structures and features of the property are all composed of authentic materials, and many still possess artefacts and remains, which truthfully and credibly express the values conveyed. The location and setting of the archaeological sites are directly dependent on the natural features, reflecting the change from hunter-gatherers to pastoral nomadic herders throughout subsequent stages of habitation in Arabia.

Comparaison avec d’autres biens similaires

The next paragraphs will describe an international comparison of the Faya Palaeolandscape with sites of comparable typological or thematical features in order to illustrate the outstanding attributes of the OUV. In this context, four key narratives have been identified: sites with intermittent Stone Age occupation; sites with a desert landscape typology; sites with geohydrological features; sites representing early modern humans' adaptions to a harsh environment.

In other remote areas of the world, we can find the Willandra Lakes Region, Australia, which was inscribed on the World Heritage List for its non-fossil remains of Pleistocene lakes and singular hydrological formations. The property is unique in the longevity of the landscapes it preserves, and the lakes provide an exceptional window into climatic and related environmental changes over the last 100,000 years. (UNESCO, 1981). Precipitation, together with fluvial and aeolian weathering, have shaped the geological features creating a wide range of wadis between the rocks, uncovering relict water catchment systems that could have sustained life for diverse flora and fauna over time. The property is key to understanding access to freshwater for early human groups, which could occupy the property in the Stone Age. Willandra uncovers archaeological findings of stages of human occupation in the area from around 45.000 to 60.000 years ago; including an undisturbed stratigraphy that reveals evidence of Homo sapiens in this area from nearly 50,000 years ago. Although Willandra includes some of the earliest human remains out of Africa, human groups arrived in Australia already with the adaption ability to desert like environments whereas the Faya Palaeolandscape plays a significant role in the process.

Stone Age evidence has been found at the Israeli World Heritage Sites of Human Evolution at Mount Carmel: The Nahal Me’arot / Wadi el-Mughara Caves also illustrate the existence of both Neanderthals and Early Anatomically Modern Humans within the same Middle Palaeolithic cultural framework (UNESCO, 2012). However, the difference to the Faya Palaeolandscape lies in the geography of the inhabited landscape. The Wadi el-Mughara can be found within a humid forest-like landscape in a Mediterranean climate. Therefore, the Sites of Human Evolution at Mount Carmel do not have the environmental component of being a desert landscape and are therefore also not comparable to the adaption of human groups to desert environments during the Stone Age.

In Africa, The Melka Kunture and Balchit, currently on Ethiopia’s Tentative List, present a rather comparable scenario due to their justification for inscription. The property illustrates the continuous record over the Middle and Late Pleistocene due to the sedimentary processes that allowed its preservation over time, also uncovering more than 80 archaeological sites in a deep stratigraphic sequence. Melka Kunture and Balchit present several subsequent stages of habitation, as Neolithic findings have also been confirmed within the same geographical area, but no later periods have been included as relevant for its OUV. Records of Homo erectus and later archaic Homo sapiens have been dated around 1.7 million years, which indeed helps us understand the origins of early hominins. Tools found are mainly made from obsidian, as opposed to the flint industries found in Faya, which show a later development and more refined techniques (UNESCO, 2020). However, the Melka Kunture is quite different to the Faya Palaeolandscape concerning the ecological conditions at the site. With a riverine flora, the landscape designed a savannah environment which lies at a height of 2.000 m above sea level. Therefore, the Faya Palaeolandscape creates a different Stone Age desert landscape typology and human adaptation to their environmental conditions.

The Nefud Desert in Saudi Arabia bears similar environmental landscape characteristics as the Faya Palaeolandscape. As its name suggests, it exemplifies a desert landscape that covers an area of approximately 103,600 square kilometres.

Several different archaeological findings within the area have been dated to the Palaeolithic period. The Jubbah Palaeolake in the northern part of the Nefud desert can be identified as the most comparable site to the Faya Palaeolandscape. Along the edges of the Palaeolake, three buried and stratified archaeological sites have been identified dating back to the Marine Isotope Stages 7 and 5, which are characterized by humid conditions in the area. Furthermore, the Jubbah Palaeolake is supposed to have been existed for a longer time due to signs of fluctuating water. While the Nefud Desert in Saudi Arabia provides important evidence for human occupation of deep interior parts of the Arabian Peninsula, the main difference to the Faya Palaeolandscape lays in the observation that geohydrological features allowed Palaeolithic habitation only during humid stages. Human’s ability to adopt to desert landscapes in arid phases is not testified in the Nefud Desert. Hence it is only partially comparable to the Faya Palaeolandscape.

The archaeological sites in El Kowm are of special interest when it comes to documenting Palaeolithic evidence in the harsh environmental conditions of the Syrian desert. Composed mainly of three remarkable individual sites (Hummal, Umm el Tlel, and Ain al Fil). El Kowm stands as one of the most similar properties to Jebel Faya in terms of archaeological and palaeolandscape documentation. Archaeological sites across el Kowm have uncovered very relevant evidence, proving that the region was highly frequented by early modern humans during the Stone Age. The most important example of re-occurring occupation within a desert landscape is Hummal. It stands out because of its deep stratigraphy, over 20 meters, and its documentation of subsequent stages of human habitation through its several archaeological layers. The underground karstic system created by tectonic faults led to the development of artesian springs in the El Kowm area. Due to climatic changes and tectonic movements over time, surface water levels fluctuated and enabled human occupation in this very specific desert location. Freshwater was therefore available for such periods where archaeological evidence has been dated using the underwater catchment systems. However, the environmental setting in El Kowm is different from the Faya Palaeolandscape and, therefore, can hardly be compared. The former is a circular formed 20 km gap in the Syrian mountains and is therefore hardly comparable to the desert landscape typology of the Faya Palaeolandscape, both in terms of landscape typology and depth of palaeoenvironmental understanding.

Several single locations along the Israeli Negev Desert also present similarities with the Faya Palaeolandscape. Although the few sites with archaeological evidence suggest there was rather limited human use of the geomorphological features, caves and shelters can be found across a landscape that presents rich geologic combinations with relic water catchment systems. Relevant for climate research in areas of Central and Eastern Arabia, the area presents evidence for periodic freshwater springs along the coast and cycles of speleothem growth on the Sinai Peninsula, which could sustain that the western rim of the Arabian Peninsula is a potential corridor for enabling the exchange and early human migrations between South Arabia and the Levant. Although gathering almost all elements of Sharjah’s geomorpho- dynamics, the lack of human interaction with such a Palaeolandscape and complete stratigraphy within singular localities makes the Negev different to the Faya Palaeolandscape.

In the Omani region of Dhofar, hundreds of Middle Palaeolithic sites have recently been discovered following extensive surveys. The property includes not only non-fossil human remains but also lithic industries comparable to other sites across the region. In the north of the Dhofar Region, the Rub al-Khali meets the Nejd Plateau, mostly composed of limestone formations, before reaching the grassland and coastal plain. In some areas, also here the sand dunes meet the limestone before reaching the coast. Unfortunately, few archaeological sites are spread across this vast area and urban development has affected the pristine features of the landscape. Therefore, it is difficult to pin a site within the region that meets all the different requirements found in Faya, failing to illustrate the complex mosaic of interrelated attributes Sharjah offers in a very concentrated geographical area. Additionally, the sites geohydrological components differ from those at Faya Palaeolandscape as the water vanishes into underground aquifers, which were probably inaccessible by humans during the Stone Age.

The High Desert of Egypt at Abydos has been identified as a Palaeolithic landscape environment with the potential of Palaeolithic archaeological findings. Similar to Faya Palaeolandscape, the desert landscape at Abydos is virtually undisturbed. With its relatively stable climatic conditions since the Stone Age, the site reflects an important comparative site regarding human populations towards harsh desert environments. However, no geohydrological evidence has been found, and there is no intermittent stone age stratigraphy as all findings have been identified as surface findings.

As a result of this comparative analysis, the Faya Palaeolandscape appears an outstanding and unique testimony of a stone age desert landscape with unique evidence of intermittent settlement during different climatic periods on the Arabian Peninsula, including hyper-arid phases. The property provides an exceptional testimony to anatomically modern humans’ adaptions to climatic changes in their environment over several thousand years from the Palaeolithic to the Neolithic.