Iranian Instagram influencer Soheil Taghavi posed with skulls, bones, and pieces of pottery at the unexplored Tasuki archeological site in southeast Iran in a video that he hoped would go viral. But many people across Iran were shocked by the video, especially lovers of history and archeology. Our Observer explains that even moving the smallest object in this kind of site can jeopardize future digs and ruin important discoveries about the past.
On Instagram, Soheil Taghavi describes himself as a tour guide. He has 29,000 followers. In the videos that he posted of his visit to the Tasuki archeological site, Taghavi digs in the ground and pulls out skulls and bones, then poses with them in front of the camera.
“I gathered up the best preserved pieces for you”, he says at one point. “Now is the moment to share my page so your friends can see these cool things, too,” he says, smiling.
‘Just touching these artefacts with bare hands could damage them’
Fatemeh Aliasghar is an Iranian journalist who has written extensively about archeological sites.
Even though this site has been listed on the national register of historic sites, it hasn’t yet been excavated.
The Tasuki site is located about 24 km from Shahr-e Sukhteh, which is a Unesco world heritage site, so the people who lived there probably had a similar lifestyle. Shahr-e-Sukhteh is from around 3,200 BC. But it is also possible that those who lived in Tasuki had a completely different culture, one that is unknown to us. But in any way that you look at it, we are talking about an important archaeological site.
All the more so because this site is located in a fairly isolated area, far from towns and other human activity, which makes us think that it is well preserved. Moreover, you can see in Taghavi’s videos that he is handling well-preserved skulls, bones and pieces of pottery, which would contain crucial information about the people who lived there.
Taghavi picked up bones and skulls and moved them. But you need to have specific training and use specific tools in order to avoid causing damage. Even just touching these artefacts with your bare hands could damage them. He also moved them and posed them for photos and videos. But the location of each piece of bone and each piece of pottery represents important information, which was destroyed by his thoughtless actions.
When archaeologists find pieces of pottery, they can reconstruct them and try to reassemble them into their original form. But when the pieces are scattered, it becomes impossible to put together the puzzle.
“Illegal digs in Iran are commonplace”
Taghavi tries to put together the pieces, saying “play with them and put them back together!” even though these pieces might very well come from different objects, which might come from different centuries, maybe even from different groups of people who lived on this site at different periods.
These images are also revealing because they show the utter lack of oversight of Iran’s archaeological sites.
Most of them don’t even have guards and even the most well-known sites only have two or three people there to keep an eye on dozens of square kilometres. Illegal digs are commonplace in Iran. The Organisation for Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism, which is supposed to take care of their preservation and their security, don’t report most of these illegal digs in order to save face. That’s exactly what is happening with Taghavi: to hide their incompetence, these officials haven’t initiated even the smallest of legal proceedings against him.
“I am sincerely sorry. All I wanted was to show the beauty of Sistan-and-Baluchestan,” he said. He also thanked several local officials with the Organisation for Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism. Alireza Jalalzaei, who runs the branch of this organization in Sistan-and-Baluchestan, said on December 7 that he had reprimanded Taghavi. Some of our Observers say that Taghavi’s actions could be punished with up to ten years in prison and a fine of several hundred euros.
This isn’t the first time this influencer has pulled such a stunt. In 2018, he covered the ground with coloured powder at an important geological site on the island of Hengam in the Persian Gulf as part of a celebration inspired by the festival of colours in India.
Shahr-e-Sukhteh, the site neighbouring Tasuki, is from the Bronze Age and has been listed as a Unesco World Heritage site since 2014. There are between 25,000 and 40,000 graves there. The oldest artificial eye was discovered there, as well as the oldest game of backgammon and the oldest caraway seeds. A human skull found there revealed beginning attempts at surgery, and an earthenware goblet found there is decorated with what archaeologists considered the oldest example of drawn animation.