Was Makhunik an Ancient Iranian Lilliput?
In August 2005, a tiny mummified body was found in the ancient Persian village of Makhunik in what is now Iran. The discovery caused an international sensation when researchers reported that the remains belonged to an adolescent dwarf and that excavations of the ancient town revealed architecture that suggested it was a city of little people. Now the city, sometimes referred to as an Iranian Lilliput, is back in the headlines because the country is trying hard to draw in tourists to their unique site.
Efforts to Put Makhunik on the Tourist Map
Albawaba reports that there is currently a belief that “the unique architecture of the village and its historical background are still an untapped potential for tourism .” Recently work has taken place to make the site more appealing, with about $17,000 being infused just in past year’s restoration work and a comprehensive study.
The governor of Sarbisheh, Mohammad Mohammadi recently suggested necessary changes to make that goal a reality. He said :
“We should try [our best] to develop capacities of the wonderful villages of Chensht and Makhunik to boost tourism and to attract foreign tourists. Such goal[s] will not be achieved unless [we] provide necessary infrastructure for passengers and create residential spaces in the form of eco-lodges in villages that bear cultural and tourist attractions.”
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Neolithic Village of Makhunik, Khorasan, Iran. ( sghiaseddin /Adobe Stock)
The ‘Tiny’ Discovery in 2005
As for the hallmark discovery in 2005, The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies reported that the discovery of the tiny mummy followed two months of illegal excavations in the historical fortress of Gudiz in Kerman province near Shahdad city, which dates back to time of the Sassanid Empire (224 to 651 AD), the last Iranian empire before the rise of Islam. The mummy was seized after the smugglers attempted to sell it for more than 3 million U.S. dollars in Germany.
The 25-cm (9.84-inch) long mummy was well-preserved and covered by a thin covering, which was initially believed to be materials used for mummification, but was later confirmed to be the individual’s skin. Initial analyses carried out by a forensic team estimated that the person was 16 – 17 years old at the time of death.
The small mummy found in 2005. ( PressTV)
The discovery quickly added fuel to rumors already in existence about a dwarf city in Kerman province, with parallels being drawn to the ‘Lilliput City’ described in Jonathan Swift’s famous novel, “Gulliver’s Travels”. Reports started filtering through of homes and buildings excavated in the ancient village with walls only 80 cm (31.50 inches) high.
Claims and Rebuttals Against the “City of Dwarfs”
“A significant aspect about Shahdad is the strange architecture of the houses, alleys and equipment discovered. The walls, ceiling, furnaces, shelves and all the equipment could only be used by dwarfs,” reported Iran Daily. “After a lapse of 5,000 years since the departure of dwarfs from the city, a large swathe of this prehistoric region lies buried in soil and the migration of Shahdad’s dwarfs remains clouded in mystery.”
The buildings were found to have low walls, only suitable for dwarves, according to Iran Daily .
But archaeologists were quick to debunk the rumors of the existence of such a city in the province: “The 38-year archaeological excavations in Shahdad city deny any dwarf city in the region. The remain[ing] houses [with] walls are 80 centimetres high [but] were originally 190 centimetres. Some of the remain[ing] walls are 5 centimetres high, therefore should we claim that the people who live[d] in these houses were 5 centimetres tall?” said Mirabedin Kaboli, head of archaeological excavations in Shahdad city.
Other experts ruled out the possibility that the mummy proves that Makhunik was a city of dwarfs, but stopped short of dispelling local legend of such a city altogether: “Even if it is proved that the corpse belongs to a dwarf, we cannot say for sure that the region of its discovery in Kerman province was the city of dwarfs,” said Javadi, archaeologist of the Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization of Kerman province.
Village of Makhunik, Khorasan, Iran. ( sghiaseddin /Adobe Stock)
Several months after the discovery, Payvand Iran News reported that anthropological studies revealed the small mummy was actually 400-years-old and did not belong to a dwarf at all but to a premature baby that had been mummified through natural processes.
"The skeleton belongs to a premature baby who, due to regional conditions and its burial method, has been mummified under natural processes," said Farzad Forouzanfar, an anthropologist of the Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization of Iran.
So what can we conclude about Makhunik and the tiny mummy? It appears that much of the media reporting regarding the case has been spurred on by rumor and misrepresented through sensationalism. It seems most probable that the mummy is the naturally preserved remains of a baby, as anthropological studies revealed. Nevertheless, it is curious that legends of “little people” do not just exist in Iran but can be found in many cultures around the world.
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A Long History of Little People
According to Dr. Susan Martinez, author of ‘ The History of the Little People: Their Spiritually Advanced Civilizations around the World’ , an ancient race of people who were small in stature once inhabited the Earth. She refers to legends and stories from many cultures, such as the dwarf gods of Mexico and Peru, the Menehune of Hawaii, the Nunnehi of the Cherokee, as well as African Pygmies and the Semang of Malaysia; and draws upon discoveries of tiny tunnel networks, small coffins, low doorways in mounds, and pygmy-sized huts, as evidence of this ancient race.
While Dr. Martinez’s work has attracted a large amount of both criticism and skepticism, others have been more open to the idea:
“Tales and legends of the wee folk, or little people, are numerous around the world. At times they are reportedly meddlesome, but always very mysterious. Through her extensive research into the subject matter, Susan Martinez, Ph.D., establishes the little people as the progenitor of civilization and one of the ancestors of the people of today,” said researcher and author Jack Churchward.
Scuplture of "Korrigan", a small elf of the Celtic forests. ( CC BY 2.0 )
Top Image: Makhunik Village, Khorasan, Iran . Source: sghiaseddin /Adobe Stock