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In Conservative Iran, Ancient Sex Symbols Survive

RFE/RL Azerbaijani Service photographer Abbas Atilay visited an unusual cemetery in Tabriz, northwestern Iran, where pre-Islamic fertility symbols mark the graves. Some of these ancient carvings have disappeared in recent years, possibly destroyed by local Muslims in keeping with the prohibition against representing the human form.

Near the village of Pina Shalvar in northwestern Iran, not far from the city of Tabriz, an unusual cemetery has survived for many centuries.
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Near the village of Pina Shalvar in northwestern Iran, not far from the city of Tabriz, an unusual cemetery has survived for many centuries.

Distinctly male and female symbols mark the graves of the men and women buried here.
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Distinctly male and female symbols mark the graves of the men and women buried here.

Little is known about the pre-Islamic tradition that gave rise to the cemetery, but some estimates date it at more than 2,000 years old.
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Little is known about the pre-Islamic tradition that gave rise to the cemetery, but some estimates date it at more than 2,000 years old.

In recent years, this ancient monument has begun to deteriorate. A photograph taken just a few years earlier shows many more gravestones, including what is believed to be a female symbol, representing ovaries.
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In recent years, this ancient monument has begun to deteriorate. A photograph taken just a few years earlier shows many more gravestones, including what is believed to be a female symbol, representing ovaries.

Local residents tell RFE/RL that unknown visitors have been removing or destroying the tombstones, possibly because of Islamic laws prohibiting any representation of the human form.
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Local residents tell RFE/RL that unknown visitors have been removing or destroying the tombstones, possibly because of Islamic laws prohibiting any representation of the human form.

Though rare, the cemetery is not the only one of its kind in Iran. Similar stone carvings in northeastern Golestan Province have become a tourist attraction.
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Though rare, the cemetery is not the only one of its kind in Iran. Similar stone carvings in northeastern Golestan Province have become a tourist attraction.

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