The Zoroastrian ritual of placing bodies on top of towers to be picked apart by vultures was supposed to ensure the circle of life continued. It was also really gruesome.
Across Iran, coliseum-like funerary towers sit atop mountainsides. The flat tops of these spiraling alters are used as a gruesome feeding platter of sorts in keeping with a 3,000-year-old tradition: they were built to offer up corpses to be consumed by birds of prey.
Called Towers of Silence, or dakhmas, these temples to the dead are part of an ancient Zoroastrian ritual meant to ensure the circle of life continues and that the body of a deceased doesn’t pollute the elements held sacred.
By allowing vultures to consume the corpse, it is both one final charitable act and an assurance that evil spirits won’t find an empty vessel to takeover.
These circular stone buildings reach 18 feet into the air and measure 300 feet in circumference. Each dakhma holds around 250 bodies. On the top are three circles: the outer was reserved for men, the middle for women, and the central circle was for children. After no flesh was left, bones would be collected and stored in the central pit of the structure, or in a private ossuary. They are outfitted with an iron door and four towers that connect with channels to the center and serve to drain and filter any washed away matter.
Many of these sacrificial structures still dot the barren landscape of Yazd, Iran, although the practice has forcibly died out. In the 1970s, as the urban sprawl crept toward the ancient sites, ceremonial use of the towers was called a health risk and forbidden entirely.
SOURCE: Nina Strochlic
The Daily Beast