Ancient Geoglyphs of Kazakhstan: The Mysterious Markings in Danger of Destruction
Rings, crosses, circles, squares, and a swastika are some of the many intricate designs of the enigmatic and ancient geoglyphs spread across the vast northern steppe of Kazakhstan. 50 huge geoglyphs were discovered by archaeologists in 2007 and were revealed last year, but researchers still seek to piece together who built the large-scale creations or why.
Archaeologists Irina Shevnina and Andrew Logvin, who discovered the geoglyphs, said of the finds, “As of today, we can say only one thing – the geoglyphs were built by ancient people.”
According to IBTimes, the sprawling creations are built-up mounds on top of the earth, unlike the famous Nazca Lines of Peru, which were dug and scraped into the earth. The mounds, found in the Torgay region in Kazakhstan, are typically formed with rocks, stone fragments, brush, gravel and soil. Like other giant geoglyphs, they are easily visible from altitude, and researchers have surveyed sites using satellite images from Google Earth.
Last year a team of archaeologists from Kostanay University in Kazakhstan and Vilnius University in Lithuania, investigated the giant structures using aerial photography and ground-penetrating radar.
A wide variety of shapes were revealed , with sizes ranging from 90 to 400 meters (295 to 1312 feet) in diameter. They were mostly shaped out of earth, but the swastika geoglyph was found to have been made out of timber, and as such is not in good condition.
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Pittsburgh University scientists Shalkar Adambekov and Ronald Laporte are currently working to get the area designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site to protect the archaeologically important sites. The geoglyphs are thought to date back 3,000 to 7,000 years.
The large scale of the Kazakhstan geoglyphs can be seen when shown next to a modern road. Credit: Google Earth
A protected designation may help preserve the ancient sites, and it seems to be sorely needed. In July it was reported by the International News Agency "Kazinform" that some of the unique glyphs had been irreparably destroyed by reconstruction of roads through the area.
The road reconstruction project was carried out in 2013, and it passed through the center of the Kazakh archaeological complex. The head of the department of Technical Supervision Office of Transport and Highways of the Kostanay region said the repairs did not exceed the boundaries of the original road which was built in the 1970’s, but Kazinform claims in its article that the construction of a bypass road partially damaged a hill which was part of an historical object.
Satellite image showing the road R-259 bisecting an ancient Torgay geoglyph in Kazakhstan. Credit: Google Earth
Ancient geoglyphs are particularly vulnerable to damage. In 2014 Greenpeace environmental activists damaged the Nazca geoglyphs in Peru when they walked on the delicate archaeological site to install a huge cloth message urging the use of renewable energy. Squatters and animals also pose a major problem for Nazca conservationists.
Funding for research into the Torgay geoglyphs will be required if investigations and protections are to be accomplished.
Shalkar Adambekov told IBTimes UK , “It’s a complicated problem. Kazakhstan is an obscure country and no one knows much about it. It’s not floating in world news, as a result few people know what’s going on there. That’s one part of the problem. Financing is another thing. Archaeology as I understand is not very well funded and Kazakhstan is a developing country ... If we could attract more financing that would be great.”
Ronald Laporte, professor emeritus in epidemiology, is pressing to have the ancient geoglyphs secured and protected. “So little is known about them,” he told IBTimes.
“Our ancestors must have spent so much time building them that there had to have been an important function to their lives. Understanding these better is essential to understanding our own history, especially in Kazakhstan with a nomadic population – why would they spend all these years building and going back and forth? In terms of the history of mankind, they mean something very important but they just haven't been investigated,” he said.
The geoglyphs are thougth to be between 3,000 and 7,000 years old. Credit: Google Earth/discovery.turgay.kz
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In the ancient past of Kazakhstan societies were nomadic, so it is not yet understood why, or how, people constantly on the move would stop to build such large-scale, permanent creations. It is thought the geoglyphs served religious purposes and might have been used for funeral ceremonies. They might also have served as family or tribal symbols, or were a means of marking ownership of the land.
Some scientists believe they are linked to the heavens with some representing constellations in the night sky. Other experts believe that the lines played a role in pilgrimage, with one walking across them to reach a sacred place. Yet another idea is that the lines are connected with water, something vital to life yet hard to get in the desert, and may have played a part in water-based rituals.
Archaeological excavations at the Kazakhstan geoglyphs revealed the remains of structures and hearths, suggesting that rituals took place there.
A square geoglyph with cross pattern in Torgay, Kazakhstan. Credit: Google Earth
Research was presented last year at the Forum of the European Association of Archaeologists in Istanbul. The cultural and historic value associated with the geoglyphs has prompted some scientists to put them on par with international sites such as the pyramids of Egypt, and Central American, and Britain’s Stonehenge.
Featured Image: The spectacular ancient geoglyphs of Kazakhstan are in geometric patterns, including circles, squares, and a swastika. Credit: Google Earth
By Liz Leafloor