Urgeschichte und Naturwissenschaftliche Archäologie

Sharjah – Tübingen Early Prehistory Project Series (STEPPS)

Prof. Hans-Peter Uerpmann established the first collaboration with the Sharjah Archaeology Authority (SAA) in 1995 and co-directed STEPPS together with Dr. Sabah Jasim (SAA) for over two decades. Since 2012, Dr. Knut Bretzke continues the work of Prof. Uerpmann and co-directs the STEPPS research. Several archaeological field campaigns have been conducted in the past decades, which include topics covering Paleolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age periods. Besides Prof. Uerpmann and Dr. Knut Bretzke as the heads of STEPPS, different members of the department Early Prehistory and Quaternary Ecology including Dr. Philipp Drechsler, Dr. Adelina Kutterer or Dr. Johannes Kutter, as well as many students and archaeological technicians seized the opportunity to contribute to the success of STEPPS during systematic surveys and excavations in different landscape settings on Sharjah territory. STEPPS’ long-term work led to important contributions to the research on the early prehistory of humans in arid environments. Key working areas and sites of STEPPS include 1.) Jebel Buhais – with the Neolithic burial site Buhais 18 and the Paleolithic site Buhais Rockshelter, 2.) Jebel Faya – with the Paleolithic site FAY-NE1 and the Neolithic sites FAY-10 and FAY-15, and 3.) Wadi Hilo – with the Neolithic to Bronze Age site HLO 1.

The interdisciplinary research conducted in STEPPS revealed that the interior region of Sharjah Emirate is an exceptional area for archaeological, geological and paleoenvironmental research, which provides significant contributions to the understanding of human responses to evolving climatic conditions in harsh environments during prehistory. Besides contributing to the deciphering of Sharjah’s deep history, STEPPS also provides archaeological expertise for initiatives aiming at the transfer of the outstanding scientific value of Sharjah’s Central Region to the public. This includes the involvement in the development of museum exhibitions as well as world heritage applications.

Jebel Buhais

Jebel Buhais forms the southern end of a north-south oriented anticline structure that developed in conjunction with the formation of the Hajar Mountains to the East. The anticline forms the western end of a well-watered plain with relatively dense vegetation compared to the sand dunes to west of the anticline. Surface and underground water draining from the Hajar Mountains to west, is forced to surface at Jebel Buhais, where prehistoric human groups had easy access to this water. Field work of STEPPS revealed the presence of a Neolithic graveyard and evidence for Paleolithic occupations at Jebel Buhais. The graveyard at site Buhais 18 is one of very few examples for inland occupation and bone preservation from the Neolithic in Arabia. Using the archaeological record from Buhais 18, STEPPS could provide insight into burial traditions and subsistence behavior of early pastoral nomadic societies. STEPPS concentrates its resources currently on the excavation of Buhais Rockshelter, a Paleolithic sequence discovered in 2017. This site provides at least three layers of stone artifact assemblages indicating human occupation during later parts of the Late Pleistocene.

Jebel Faya

Jebel Faya is the most northern one of the five mountains that compose the 15 km long Faya-Buhais anticline structure in the central region of Sharjah Emirate. Upper Cretaceous limestone formations covering a basis of metamorphic rocks form the mountain and provide a number of features that have attracted human occupation since at least 200,000 years. Besides protection from wind, rain, and sun, provided by numerous rock shelters and few small caves, Jebel Faya also provides good quality chert for the production of stone tools and excellent opportunities for monitoring game as well as access to fresh water sources. The site FAY-NE1 (Faya, northeast 1) is a well-developed rock shelter where 5 m of sediments preserved a, regarding Arabia, rare sequence of seven archaeological layers. In the lower six layers, STEPPS’ excavations recovered early Middle Paleolithic stone artifact assemblages covering the late Middle Pleistocene to Late Pleistocene period, while the top one represents an early Holocene occupation phase. About 500 m north of FAY-NE1, STEPPS recovered a Neolithic graveyard (FAY-NE15) dating to about 6,000-7,000 years ago and a small cave (FAY-NE10) with deposits indicating repeated human use about 7,300-6,700, 8,500-7,700 and 9,100-9,400 years ago. The lower two layers are of particular interest given that some of the earliest evidence for human cremation in SE Arabia was found in the middle layer, while the deepest layer is a rare example of early Holocene settlement in the region.

Wadi Hilo

The site HLO1 in the Wadi al-Hilo, which means “Hilo river valley” has been excavated between 2007 and 2012. The site is situated near the upper end of the valley. Its name translates as “sweet valley”, which is due to its fertility and the rich supply of fresh water in its alluvial underground. Geologically, the area is dominated by Gabbro of the Oman–UAE Ophiolite, which contains small occurrences of copper ore. Some of them indicate traces of surface mining, including a locality at the northern periphery of the archaeological site. Indications for copper smelting at the site begin during the transition from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age, which is among the earliest records providing evidence for metallurgy in SE Arabia. Indications for continued occupation of the site during the Bronze and Iron Ages exist in the form of typical pottery from these periods. Direct and indirect evidence for metal production was found in the form of smelting furnaces, workshops, and traces of ore processing. An ingot of pure copper with a weight of 4.6 kg—which, according to the lead isotopes, was produced from local ore—is direct evidence for on-site metallurgy. Isotope analyses of artefacts from other Bronze Age sites indicate that HLO1 is a potential source of copper for a larger area of SE Arabia. The economic importance of the site and its products is indicated by traces of fortifications. The most obvious is the base of a watchtower of the early Bronze Age Umm an-Nar period excavated near the southern access to the site. Excavations at HLO1 also provided evidence for a Neolithic occupation of the site. Unfortunately, the only evidence for that period are five radiocarbon dates for fireplaces which span the time from the 9th to the 4th millennium BC. Based on stratigraphy, a partly excavated stone structure also belongs to this period. Some few flint artefacts from the corresponding levels are insufficiently characteristic for a typological characterization.

Selected Publications

Peer reviewed paper

  • Bretzke, K., Preusser, F., Jasim, S., Miller, C., Preston, G., Raith, K., Underdown, S.J., Parton, A., arker, A.G., 2022. Multiple phases of human occupation in Southeast Arabia between 210,000 and 120,000 years ago. Scientific Reports 12, 1600.
  • Kutterer, A., Uerpmann, H.-P., 2017. Neolithic nomadism in south-east Arabia – strontium and oxygen isotope ratios in human tooth enamel from al-Buhais 18 and Umm al-Quwain 2 in the Emirates of Sharjah and Umm al-Quwain (UAE). Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 28, 75-89.
  • Bretzke, K., Armitage, S.J., Parker, A.G., Walkington, H., Uerpmann, H.P., 2013. The environmental context of Paleolithic settlement at Jebel Faya, Emirate Sharjah, UAE. Quaternary International 300, 83-93.
  • Uerpmann, H.P., Uerpmann, M., Kutterer, A., Jasim, S.A., 2013. The Neolithic period in the Central Region of the Emirate of Sharjah (UAE). Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy 24, 102-108.
  • Armitage, S.J., Jasim, S.A., Marks, A.E., Parker, A.G., Usik, V.I., Uerpmann, H.-P., 2011. The Southern Route “Out of Africa”: Evidence for an Early Expansion of Modern Humans into Arabia. Science 331, 453-456.



  • Kutterer, J. 2014. The archaeological site HLO1. Online publication: hdl.handle.net/10900/56440.
  • Drechsler, P. 2009. The Dispersal of the Neolithic Over the Arabian Peninsula. BAR International, Oxford.
  • Uerpmann, H.P., Uerpmann, M., Jasim, S.A. (Eds.) 2008. The natural environment of Jebel al-Buhais: Past and Present. Kerns Verlag, Tübingen.