Saudi Arabia's Hima Cultural Area has been added to Unesco's list of World Heritage Sites, making it the country's sixth site on the UN organisation's list of landmarks that are of cultural and historical significance.
Located between Najran and Wadi Addawasir in the country's south-west, Hima is home to one of the largest rock art complexes in the world.
"New site inscribed on the Unesco World Heritage List: cultural area of Hima, Saudi Arabia. Mabrouk!" Unesco announced on Saturday.
Hima features more than 34 separate sites including rock inscriptions and wells along the route of the ancient Arabian caravans.
The area contains a substantial collection of rock art images depicting hunting, fauna, flora and lifestyles in a cultural continuity of 7,000 years, Unesco said. "Travellers and armies camping on the site left a wealth of rock inscriptions and petroglyphs through the ages and until the late 20th century, most of which are preserved in pristine condition," it said.
"Inscriptions are in different scripts, including Musnad, Aramaic-Nabataean, South-Arabian, Thamudic, Greek and Arabic. The property and its buffer zone are also rich in unexcavated archaeological resources in the form of cairns, stone structures, interments, stone tool scatters and ancient wells.
"This location is at the oldest known toll station on an important ancient desert caravan route, where the wells of Bi’r Ḥima date back at least 3,000 years and still produce fresh water."
Saudi Arabia's Minister of Culture Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan Al Saud welcomed the listing, the official SPA news agency reported.
The kingdom has a "rich heritage (of) human civilisations. Efforts have borne fruit in making it known to the world," it quoted him as saying.
SPA said Hima was a conduit for caravans on the trade and Hajj routes to and from the southern parts of Arabia.
"People who passed through the area between pre- and post-historic times have left behind a substantial collection of rock art depicting hunting, wildlife, plants, symbols, and tools used at the time, as well as thousands of inscriptions," the news agency said.
The site covers 557 square kilometres.
Other Unesco sites in Saudi Arabia include rock art in the Hail region, historic Jeddah, Al-Turaif District, Al-Hijr Archaeological Site and the Al-Ahsa Oasis.
The World Heritage Committee is currently in its annual session, during which members assess the condition and management of more than 1,100 existing sites, as well as accept nominations from countries for new World Heritage Sites.
On Wednesday, it stripped Liverpool's waterfront from the list of World Heritage Sites after concerns about overdevelopment including plans for a new football stadium nearby.
– Additional reporting by AFP