Ancient Geoglyphs Discovered in Kazakhstan

WORLD

Space-age technology has revealed an ancient mystery on the ground. (New York Times)

Download, annotate, and print your own map of Kazakhstan here.

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit.

X marks the spot of Ushtogaysky Square, the largest of Kazakhstan’s so-called Turgai geoglyphs. Each side of the Ushtogaysky Square measures about 274 meters (900 feet). Photograph by NASA

X marks the spot of Ushtogaysky Square, the largest of Kazakhstan’s so-called Turgai geoglyphs. Each side of the Ushtogaysky Square measures about 274 meters (900 feet).
Photograph by NASA

The diameter of the Turgai swastika, above, is about 91 meters (300 feet). (The bent cross of a swastika is a design motif that stretches back millennia before it was perverted by the Nazis.) Photograph by NASA

The diameter of the Turgai swastika, above, is about 91 meters (300 feet). (The bent cross of a swastika is a design motif that stretches back millennia before it was perverted by the Nazis.)
Photograph by NASA

Discussion Ideas

  • Using satellite imagery, NASA recently documented a series of geoglyphs in a remote region of central Kazakhstan. What are geoglyphs?
    • A geoglyph is a large design (glyph) produced on the ground from earthen (geo-) materials, such as dirt and rocks.
      • The Turgai geoglyphs are positive geoglyphs. This means their creators used earthen materials to build up the glyph. Negative geoglyphs are produced by removing earthen materials to carve channels or canals.

 

 

  • If ancient geoglyphs are so common, why are archaeologists so surprised by the Turgai geoglyphs of Kazakhstan? Read through the New York Times article for some help.
    • They’re old! Some “preliminary studies push the earliest date back more than 8,000 years, which could make them the oldest such creations ever found.” (To be fair, other studies date the structures to less than a thousand years ago.)
    • They’re complex! The Turgai geoglyphs seem to be associated with the Mahandzhar, a nomadic culture that flourished in the region between 7000 BCE and 5000 BCE. The organization required to build such large-scale engineering projects is usually not associated with nomadic cultures. “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,” says one archaeologist.

 

  • What were the Turgai geoglyphs used for?
    • To be determined. One archaeologist makes an educated guess that the geoglyphs were “horizontal observatories to track the movements of the rising sun.”
    • It’s important to note what the Turgai geoglyphs are not: burial mounds. No trade goods or genetic material has been identified in the Turgai geoglyphs.

 

  • The Turgai geoglyphs are also called the “steppe geoglyphs.” Why? Read through our short encyclopedic entry on steppes for some help.
    • A steppe landscape describes a dry, grassy plain. The largest temperate grassland in the world is the Eurasian steppe, extending from Hungary to China. The Eurasian steppe is so well-known, the area is sometimes referred to as just The Steppe. The Turgai geoglyphs are right in the middle of the Eurasian steppe.

 

TEACHERS’ TOOLKIT

New York Times: NASA Adds to Evidence of Mysterious Ancient Earthworks

Nat Geo: Kazakhstan map

Nat Geo: What is a steppe?

Turgay Discovery: Turgay Trough Geoglyphs PowerPoint presentation

History of Kazakhstan: Geoglyphs of Torgay

NASA: Turgai Geoglyphs image downloads

One response to “Ancient Geoglyphs Discovered in Kazakhstan

  1. Pingback: Mysterious Stone Structures Discovered in Saudi Arabia | Nat Geo Education Blog·

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