Out in the desert wastelands of the the Lut Desert, in the Shahdad region of South Khorasan Province, Iran, is a tiny village known as Makhunik. In the present day it looks very much like any other village in the sparsely inhabited region, and on the surface there might not seem anything strange or remarkable about this place at all, yet looking around you will find elements of Neolithic architecture and tunnels hinting at the area’s ancient past, and indeed lying under this modern village lies something far more ancient and mysterious. More intriguing still is the fact that the ancient structures here, which are still used, all seem to have been built for residents much smaller than modern human beings, possibly constructed by a long lost race of little people and earning this mysterious place the nickname Shahr-e Kotouleha, or the “City of Dwarves.”
The ancient city itself had long remained buried and forgotten in the desert for millennia before being unearthed in the 1940s by baffled archeologists who had until then not thought that any civilization had ever called this bleak, forbidding landscape home. The site, believed to date to at least the 4th millennium BC, generated a lot of attention at the time and was considered a major archeological discovery, and when the it was more thoroughly examined beginning from 1948 it was found to be even stranger still. Many of the artifacts, tools, and furnaces here, as well as the height of doorways or ceilings and the width of tunnels, and the numerous stone and clay houses were all found to have been made specifically for inhabitants estimated to have averaged only around 3 to 4 feet in height, a veritable real life race of dwarves, although no one knows who they were or why they should have been of such diminutive stature.
Adding to this mystery even further was that this ancient civilization was found to have suddenly and inexplicably abandoned the city sometime in the beginning of the 3rd millennium BC, for reasons that are still unclear. The only thing that can be said about this mass exodus is that it was very sudden, with belongings abandoned and left behind, and with some of the doorways oddly intentionally sealed and covered with mud. Although it is speculated that these ancient people left due to severe drought, and that had planned to return, it is still largely unclear as to why they fled in such large numbers. The Iran Daily has said of the odd city:
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. 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.
Of course the idea of a mysterious ancient lost vanished race of little people out in the desert is an alluring one, and it has sparked all manner of wild speculation as to who these people were, such as that they were merely stunted in growth due to nutritional or environmental factors, or that they were another race of miniature humans or even aliens. More skeptical archeologists have been quick to point out that such rumors have been blown out of proportion, that the low ceilings of the dwellings were possibly caused by natural factors that caused them to become lower over the millennia, and the low heights of these mysterious residents exaggerated. One skeptical Iranian archeologist with the Cultural Heritage and Tourism Organization of Kerman province has said of the site:
We cannot say for sure that the region of its discovery in Kerman province was the city of dwarfs. This is a very old region, which has been buried due to geographical changes. Besides technology was not so developed at that time so people may not have been able to build high walls for their houses.
The debate as to who or what these miniature people were, or if they ever really existed at all, still rages, and in the end it has remained an unsolved mystery, made worse by the fact that no bodies of the dwarfs have ever been found. However, in August of 2005 the discussion and debate on the Dwarf City of Makhunik received more fuel for the fire when what appeared to be the mummified body of a strange individual measuring only 25 centimeters in length was found here. Initial analysis would show that the remains seemed to be those of someone who had been an estimated 16 to 17 years old at the time of death, making is quite a puzzling find indeed.
The discovery of this mysterious corpse took the media by storm, and was widely held up as proof of an ancient lost race of little people in the region. After years of only long abandoned miniature sized ruins, here was seen to be the final physical evidence of these tiny people, but later analysis would show that it is probably only around 400 years old, and more likely the body of a premature baby that had been mummified through natural environmental processes. Nevertheless, of course there are conspiracy theories that the corpse is indeed real and is being played down and covered up.
Whether there really ever was some village of dwarfs living in Iran, it is intriguing that it fits in very well with the worldwide phenomenon of legends of little people in general. In almost every culture one can find such stories, and although they often seem to be represented in a way that suggests pure myth this is not always the case, and there have been similar ruins, artifacts, tunnels, and ancient structures claimed to have been crafted by them and which remain largely unsolved mysteries. Even if it is all mere legend and lore, there is still the fact that these myths often are born from some grain of truth, and it is intriguing that such tales are so pervasive across far-flung cultures. Why should that be?
There has been speculation in recent times by some researchers that this is indicative of some far-reaching race or races of mysterious little people who once inhabited the world alongside normal sized people at one point far back in the mists of time. The idea of such creatures existing contemporaneously with modern humans has gained a bit more credence with the discovery of Homo floresiensis on the Indonesian island of Flores, which were small species of early human ancestors that stood only 3 to 4 feet in height and have been speculated to have very well survived to the point where they co-existed with Homo Sapiens. Considering reports and tales of such diminutive humanoids from all over the world, is it possible that something like this was once more widespread than we think, and could this have birthed the tales of little people and discoveries of “dwarf ruins” such as those of Makhunik and others like them?
In the end there is not enough hard evidence to show that this was ever the case, but yet these stories persist across cultural boundaries and vast geographical distances, leading one to wonder if there is perhaps some basis for it all. With ruins such as Makhunik, what could be behind this? Was this merely the effects of the elements, geographical phenomena, and a bit of rumor and wild speculations? Or was this perhaps really once the home of an enigmatic miniature race of people? Is so, then who were they and why were they so small? Indeed, where did they go and why didn’t they leave behind any specimens for us to study? Perhaps such bodies do exist out there, buried under the earth for thousands of years just as their domain was, waiting to be dug up and brought into the light of day once more. Until then, we are left to wonder.