Using Google Earth, researchers have discovered an archeological gem in northern Kazakhstan—more than 50 previously unknown geoglyphs of different geometric shapes and sizes sprawled across the landscape. Geoglyphs are large designs created on the surface of the ground, usually made by arranging stones or sculpting the earth.
The newly discovered shapes include squares, rings, crosses and swastikas, ranging from 90 to 400 meters in size (300 to 1300 feet). While the latter may now be associated with the Nazis, it is actually an ancient symbol that has been used for over 3,000 years by many cultures around the world, including in China, Europe and India. Before the Nazis adopted the swastika, it was widely used as a symbol of prosperity, good fortune and power.
[Images: copyright DigitalGlobe, via Google Earth]
Archeologists from Kostanay University, Kazakhstan, and Vilnius University, Lithuania, have been using a variety of techniques to examine the geoglyphs over the past year, including ground-penetrating radar, aerial photography and dating. According to the team, you would struggle to spot the shapes from the ground, but they are clearly visible from above.
The majority of the shapes were forged by creating mounds in the earth, but the swastika was fashioned from wood. Upon excavating the site, the team also discovered remnants of ancient structures and fireplaces, which could suggest that it was a place for ritual activities. While the team is currently unsure why the geoglyphs were created or what drove people to use geometric shapes, they postulate that they could have served as a mark of land ownership.
“As of today, we can only say one thing—the geoglyphs were built by ancient people. By whom and for what purpose, remains a mystery,” Kostanay archeologists Irina Shevnina and Andrew Logvin told Live Science.
Geoglyphs are widely distributed across the globe, but perhaps the most famous example is Peru’s Nazca Lines. Some 700 shapes have been discovered so far in the Nazca desert, southwestern Peru, which fall into two categories: natural objects, such as snakes and birds, and geometric figures. These geoglyphs also vary considerably in size with the largest measuring almost 300 meters (935 feet). Recently, previously unseen figures were revealed in the area, which were probably exposed by a sandstorm.
Image credit: Irina Callegher, "Famous hummingbird, Nazca lines," via Flickr. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
These enigmatic designs can also be found in England, such as the Uffington White Horse which was created by carving into the chalky hillside, and other countries such as the US, Chile and Russia. Satellite imagery has been extremely useful in spotting these structures which may have otherwise evaded our eyes, so who knows what other exciting designs could be exposed in the future.
Image credit: Dave Price, "Uffington White Horse," via Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
[Hat tip: Live Science]