Late last year we mentioned a stunning discovery in northern Kazakhstan: more than fifty massive, ancient geoglyphs that had gone undetected until found by a researcher using Google Earth.
NASA has recently joined the effort to learn more about these mysterious sites, and a couple of weeks ago they released satellite photographs of some of the figures. And they have now also put photography of the region on a task list for astronauts aboard the International Space Station, though they note that “it may take some time for the crew to take imagery… since we are under the mercy of sun elevation angles, weather constraints and crew schedule”.
The glyphs were first discovered in 2007 by ‘armchair archaeologist’ Dmitriy Dey, a Kazakh economist, after being inspired to search for ancient structures in the landscape of his homeland using Google Earth after watching a Discovery Channel documentary. He has continued his meticulous search since then, and has now documented some 260 structures.
And professional archaeologists are now suggesting that, like other ‘recent’ discoveries such as Gobekli Tepe, the Kazakhstan glyphs are changing the way we look at early peoples:
Persis B. Clarkson, an archaeologist at the University of Winnipeg who viewed some of Mr. Dey’s images, said these figures and similar ones in Peru and Chile were changing views about early nomads.
“The idea that foragers could amass the numbers of people necessary to undertake large-scale projects — like creating the Kazakhstan geoglyphs — has caused archaeologists to deeply rethink the nature and timing of sophisticated large-scale human organization as one that predates settled and civilized societies,” Dr. Clarkson wrote in an email.
“Enormous efforts” went into the structures, agreed Giedre Motuzaite Matuzeviciute, an archaeologist from Cambridge University and a lecturer at Vilnius University in Lithuania, who visited two of the sites last year. She said by email that she was dubious about calling the structures geoglyphs — a term applied to the enigmatic Nazca Lines in Peru that depict animals and plants — because geoglyphs “define art rather than objects with function.”
Dr. Matuzeviciute and two archaeologists from Kostanay University, Andrey Logvin and Irina Shevnina, discussed the figures at a meeting of European archaeologists in Istanbul last year.
Artifacts from near some of the structures, such as spear-heads, date back to a Neolithic settlement that lived in the area around 6,000 to 10,000 years ago, suggesting the geoglyphs are close to twice the age of the Egyptian pyramids. But other preliminary tests of some construction material used resulted in a date of around 800 BCE – so for now the actual date they were built remains an unanswered question.
In any case, this is certainly an ongoing investigation that we will surely be keeping a close eye on!