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Hatta Archaeological Landscape (Emirate of Dubai)

Date de soumission : 15/05/2023
Critères: (iii)(v)
Catégorie : Culturel
Soumis par :
Ministry of Culture and Youth
État, province ou région :
Emirate of Dubai
Coordonnées N24 43 03 E56 07 54
Ref.: 6664

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The small town of Hatta is situated at the foot of the Hajar Mountains, a chain that stretch out the south-eastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula, along the Gulf of Oman. This mountain range, shared by Oman and the United Arab Emirates, features the Samail ophiolite, the largest and best-preserved ophiolite complex in the world. The landscape of the region is characterized by high rocky mountains with towering peaks and water channels dug throughout the ages. The fertile valleys are rich in natural resources and water, due to seasonal rains in wadis and sources. Heavy rainfalls recharge the shallow groundwater, producing large floods that refill the reservoirs downstream, in particular the two major dams of Hatta and Al Ghabra. Hence, Hatta region embodies a rare and representative mountain freshwater ecosystem, which is home to a large number of species. To protect the biodiversity of this natural environment, a large area to the south of Hatta town has been internationally designated since 2019 as Hatta Mountain Reserve (Ramsar Site), and other zones of the region are protected as conservation areas by the Emirate of Dubai.

The area is said to have attracted human life since the beginning of the Early Bronze Age and to be one of the oldest inhabited places in the Emirate of Dubai. Archaeological sites and findings from the Bronze and Iron ages through the late Islamic period reflect the historical importance and civilization of Hatta region throughout the ages. An archaeological survey has been conducted in recent years in various areas of Hatta region, from east/southeast to west/southwest, resulting in the identification, documentation and mapping of 22 sites. These include traces of several tombs dating back to the Bronze and Iron ages, remains of Islamic settlement sites for domestic, agricultural and defensive use, and dozens of rock art and inscriptions representing animals and people or geometric drawings, the majority of which belong to the Bronze Age. Moreover, the town preserves an example of falaj, the traditional water distribution system of the Arabian Peninsula, which extends underground for about 560 meters from the mountain down the valley. Although it was renovated some years ago, studies have proven that this irrigation system dates back to the 1st millennium BCE, witnessing that the area had established an agricultural management practice since the Iron Age.

In particular, the mountainous areas to the east and southeast of Hatta town embody a unique archaeological landscape witnessing the continuous presence of human life in the region, specifically the clusters of tombs of the Jabal al Yamh mountains and the settlements of Suhaila 1, Suhaila 2 and Wadi Jeema, located in secluded areas nestled in the outstanding landscape of the Hajar chain.

The Hatta tombs are some of the most impressive evidence of the prehistoric past of the region. They were built since the Bronze Age in the proximity of water channels, in an area stretching north-south through around 4 km along the Jabal Al Yamh, at a short distance from the town. Human remains found in some of the tombs prove that they were reused over the millennia as late as the Middle Islamic times. This indicates the importance of these monuments for the inhabitants of the region even in such relatively recent times. Within the frame of the three-year Jabal al Yamh Research and Conservation Project, a necropolis with over seventy tombs was discovered. Many of them were excavated and studied from the archaeological, architectural, historical and anthropological points of view. These findings have shed some light on the prehistoric funerary practices of the region but also on the life of the people buried there and on their relationship with the environment.

The majority of these tombs seem to represent the Hafit style, but others indicate styles associated with Umm an-Nar, Wadi Suq, and Iron Age periods. Though, they are relatively homogenous in stone construction techniques, albeit the fact that they span a long chronology of over two millennia. An interesting characteristic is their strong integration in the environmental setting, in terms of distribution pattern, location on elevated and easily visible zones, orientation of the entrances towards the nearest wadi. This testifies a preference for certain features of the association of the tombs with their landscape, which becomes an important factor for their interpretation and understanding. According to researchers, the construction of these burial structures is related to worship and the wadi would have had a symbolic meaning in the funerary rituals.

The presence of human settlements, consisting of small ensembles of scattered stone huts or larger groups of buildings, is witnessed since the beginning of the Islamic times on gentle slopes in the mountains around Hatta. Buildings were clustered – maybe based of tribal grouping – to form kind of small hamlets. The architectural type varies from simple one-room stone huts (the majority) to larger structures with more rooms, depending on the social status of the inhabitants. The structure plan may be circular or oval shaped or, in most cases, squared/rectangular. All feature a low elevation wall (around 1 metre maximum) in dry stone and were likely roofed by a light canopy in perishable material such as tree trunks and branches, which have disappeared (ancient photos of similar structures in the region suggest how they looked like). All houses include an annexed enclosure for domesticated animals and livestock (usually goats and sheep) and boundary walls.

According to researchers, these small villages may have been part of a subsistence strategy of transhumant nomadic pastoralism, wherein the summers were spent in the valley attending to the harvest and the winters were spent in the mountains looking after the animals. Therefore, mountain villages would have supplied the valley settlements with supplementary produce and the ecological niche was suitable for herding goats. Middle-Late Islamic settlements may have been created by small communities coming from the coast along the Gulf of Oman. It is said that they were seeking for a remote area naturally protected from the incursions of the Portuguese, who reached and occupied the coasts at the beginning of 16th century. In the 19th century settlements were abandoned. In particular, well-preserved remains of three of these settlements have been found to the east of Hatta.

Suhaila 1 is regarded as a model of the villages that were inhabited from the beginning of the Islamic era until the middle of last century, before its buildings were abandoned and the population moved to live in the valley. The presence of a mosque and several stone huts or houses support the hypothesis that the village may have been used, at least for some time, on a permanent basis. The village has been fully recorded and some restoration works were conducted a few years ago. Suhaila 2 and Wadi Jeema cover a larger surface and include agricultural terraces (scattered on both sides of the wadi) and water sources. All villages feature boundary walls to mark property limits and are in the close proximity of wadis and water sources, which make the plains green and suitable for the growth of trees and herbs for goat/sheep farming as well as for human life.

Justification de la Valeur Universelle Exceptionnelle

Hatta Archaeological Landscape bears witness to the cultural tradition of human settlements in fertile valleys and secluded ecological niches in the Hajar mountains, characterized by an exceptional biodiversity.

The uninterrupted human presence in the outstanding landscape surrounding Hatta is evidenced by clusters of prehistoric tombs still used in the Islamic era. The stone tombs dating back to the Bronze and Iron ages, built on selected locations along the wadi and designed according to landscape-specific parameters, are a witness to a strong interaction between the funerary practice and the environment.

The Islamic settlements included in the property illustrate an outstanding example of the response of settlers and migrants to the scarcity of productive land in a mountainous environment. They are a distinctive example of how the mode of human habitation in these valleys was adapted to the environment, taking advantage of water resources and developing temporary or permanent settlement sites and dry-stone terraces.

Criterion (iii): Hatta Archaeological Landscape bears an exceptional testimony to the cultural tradition of movement and settlement of people in secluded valleys of the Hajar mountains in the Arabian Peninsula. It illustrates how the inhabitants interacted with the mountainous environment, where they could find the resources (abundant water in particular) that enabled their subsistence and shaped the inspiration for worship and funerary rituals. The burial grounds on the slope of Jabal al Yamh, with evidence of tomb construction techniques, artefacts and human remains, are a witness to funerary practices and ceremonies in close connection and interaction with the surrounding landscape. The use of the tombs throughout generations from the Bronze Age until the Islamic period is an exceptional testimony to the continuous inhabitation in the area as well as to the persistence of the burial structures during the millennia, although inhumation practices and rituals may have changed.

Criterion (v): Hatta Archaeological Landscape is an outstanding model of human settlements scattered on the mountainous regions and used for seasonal and likely permanent occupation. It is a rare outstanding example of mountain hamlets established by small community groups – who were searching for a safe and protected environment – since the beginning of the 16th century. It is the evidence of the inseparable material and symbolic association between landscape and human life.

Located on gentle slopes – in some cases terraced for agricultural use – surrounded by mountain peaks in the proximity of wadis and water sources, the small settlements feature mostly groups of simple one-room stone huts and an annexed courtyard for animals. Although the settlements were abandoned in the 19th century the sites have preserved the full authenticity of the setting, as they are naturally protected from Hatta town development, thanks to their remote and secluded location.

Déclarations d’authenticité et/ou d’intégrité

Hatta Archaeological Landscape preserves its authenticity of material and design to a large extent. The settlements were abandoned and the roof structures of the buildings, most probably made of perishable materials such as frames of tree branches supporting thatched roofs or matting, have disappeared. But the low dry-stone rubble-filled walls of the buildings and boundary walls are still there.

Although they have lost their function, these structures and the surrounding mountain landscape include all elements expressing potential Outstanding Universal Value. They ensure the complete representation of the features and processes which convey the property’s significance; they are a physical evidence of construction techniques and community life and of the inseparable interaction between man and landscape. The mountainous ecosystem is relatively protected from the effects of development, although there is some pressure to accommodate an increasing tourism in the area.

Well preserved and protected by Hatta community and the Government of Dubai, the village remains of Suhaila 1 and 2 and Wadi Jeema are reachable by mountain roads and paths created by the local administration to facilitate access for ecotourism, trekking, off-road cycling. Within the framework of the plan for the documentation of archaeological sites in the city of Hatta, Dubai Municipality has carried out (in collaboration with international institutions) archaeological surveys and records of many areas, identifying sites dating back to different periods, starting from the Bronze Age until the beginning of last century.

The Emirate of Dubai is doing efforts to strengthen the cultural heritage legislation framework and to implement the Federal Law No. 11 of 2017 on Antiquities, by means of identification, documentation and preservation of the Emirate’s cultural properties, in order to protect their authenticity and integrity and to enhance and diversify the national heritage.

Many of the Jabal al Yamh tombs were found damaged, with their burial chambers exposed to the weather conditions, thus leading to the deterioration of its organic remains. Many were probably looted, not only to recover their burial goods but also their structure stones to be used in new constructions. Within the frame of the Jabal al Yamh Research and Conservation Project, over 1/3 of them were reconstructed based on typological hypotheses and material evidence, for interpretation and presentation purposes targeting the large public. However, reconstruction was made by anastylosis in a legible and fully reversible way, using the same material and dry-stone construction technique and placing a fibreglass mesh between the original part and the reconstructed one. Therefore, the latter may be easily dismantled, and the structures may be brought back to their original state without any damage, should research provide new elements of information in the future. There is a need to strengthen the integration of cultural heritage in the urban planning strategy and practice, in order to protect the tombs, which are very close to the eastern part of Hatta town, from the adverse effects of development pressure and sprawl.

Comparaison avec d’autres biens similaires

Hatta Archaeological Landscape is a well-preserved and authentic mountainous region with traces of human occupation since the Bronze Age through the Islamic era, where the archaeological remains – cemeteries, villages, dry-stone agricultural terraces – bear witness to a synergy between human community and natural environment throughout the millennia.

Based on these characteristics, the comparison may be made with properties selected and grouped according to different criteria:

  • archaeological sites belonging to the same geo-cultural area and chronological framework, whether inscribed on the World Heritage List or Tentative List or not;
  • archaeological landscapes or archaeological sites occupying large areas and including settlements situated in comparable landscape settings, preferably but not exclusively inscribed on the World Heritage List or Tentative List under criteria iii and/or v.

Among the potential comparator inscribed on the World Heritage List the analysis may consider the Archaeological Sites of Bat, Al-Khutm and Al-Ayn in Oman (inscribed in 1998, criteria iii, iv), comprising well-preserved ensembles of settlements and cemeteries from the 3rd millennium BCE, including different types of monumental tombs; and the Cultural Landscape of Hawraman/Uramanat in Iran (inscribed in 2021, criteria iii, v), featuring a similar remote and mountainous landscape where the traditional culture of the Hawrami people inhabited the region since 3000 BCE, alternating life in lowlands and highlands during different seasons of the year. Among sites on the Tentative List, the analysis may include, among others, the Rural Cultural Landscapes of Sarawat Mountains in Saudi Arabia (included in the Tentative List in 2023, criteria ii, iii, v), located to an altitude of over 3,000 metres. Like in Hatta, this serial property shows the integration of human communities in the natural environment, thanks to the abundance of rain and the cool weather, which permitted life and agricultural development over the millennia, in a mountain setting offering a secure and defensible environment for human settlement.