Robbers Reportedly Looting Ancient Iranian Cemetery With NSFW Gravestones - Atlas Obscura
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Robbers Reportedly Looting Ancient Iranian Cemetery With NSFW Gravestones


A view of the historic Khalid Nabi Cemetery. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons.)

Sometimes a rock is just a rock. And sometimes it looks like…something else. And because of visitors’ dirty minds, a historic cemetery is reportedly being stripped of its stone markers.

The Khalid Nabi Cemetery in northern Iran has long been a magnet for tourists with a dirty mind. Located on a grassy mountain, the site is dotted with over 600 markers, many of which are towering shafts capped off with triangular knobs. In other words, the grounds appear to be covered in stately stone penises. The cemetery is also decorated with squat markers that some have interpreted as female genitalia. And it’s this resemblance to nether regions that may be compelling vandals to cart away the historic objects under cover of night.

According to a report by a citizen journalist on the site IranWire, only a fraction of the stone markers remain:

I wanted to visit the cemetery for a while, and at last, I succeeded. When I got there, I was as much fascinated by the strange shapes of the stones as I was horrified by the extensive damage done to this historical site.

According to local residents who live nearby, on days when the site is empty of tourists, certain individuals sneak in and vandalize the stones. Reports indicate that as recently as the 1980s there were around 600 stones at the site, of which no more than 200 remain, some of which are broken or damaged. I saw many examples of this damage.

It should be noted that while the markers are easily interpreted as penises and and vaginas, the archeologist David Stronach, who visited the site and published a paper on it in 1981, theorized that the sculptures were in fact “highly stylized representations of people.” Specifically, two types of people: a man in a cap (the tall monuments) or a man in a coat or with arms akimbo (the short monuments).

But, still, the stones look striking. And this anonymous blogger brings dire warnings about the situation.

Whatever Khaled Nabi Cemetery is, it is a fascinating mystery. But if the present rate of vandalism continues, the mystery will soon disappear. Local people say that at least some of the stones have been stolen and sold.

The Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization is responsible for protecting Iran’s historical sites. But it has done nothing to protect Khaled Nabi. But there is some hope. In an interview on April 15 with Mehr news agency, Habib Rezaei, an archeologist and university professor, strongly urged the organization to add Khaled Nabi Cemetery to the list of its protected sites. In response, Ebrahim Karimi, Director General of the Cultural Heritage Organization promised action “soon”.

But to save what is left of the captivating Khaled Nabi Cemetery, action must come sooner than later.

While this account is thus far unconfirmed, it’s worth noting that it’s not the first report of stone robbery.At least one other 2013 report—also by a citizen journalist and based on a report obtained from an unnamed person who works in the “tourism industry”—alleges that the cemetery has been the victim of theft.