Ushtogaysky Square

Every so often I’m asked about my fascination with ancient history. Polite restraint tempers inclination towards uncontrollable blithering. Reeling myself in, I take a moment to assess context, social parameters, familiarity and seriousness of my inquisitor. Are they truly interested, or halfheartedly making conversation? Who cares, either way I have an answer. “It began with the Nazca Lines”, if that doesn’t fall like a lead balloon – hang on because here I come.

Ancient astronomical feats – monolith alignment, mathematical calculations, capacity to precisely chart the passage of time, have tickled fancies for centuries. The ancients had plenty of free time to observe the cosmos, unfettered by light pollution or preconceived notions of this or that. One thing for sure – we couldn’t duplicate their accomplishments without modern technology. If that wasn’t mind blowing enough, ancient civilizations created monuments to be appreciated from high above – undertakings like Nazca and the Steppe Geoglyphs.

In 2007 Dmitriy Dey, an economist and archaeology buff from Kazakhstan spotted something remarkable while viewing Google Earth. Dey’s idle interest in finding Khazakh pyramids led to discovery of the Steppe Geoglyphs. Ponder meticulously placed earth mounds – squares, rings, crosses and lines estimated to be 8,000 years old. Precise geometric figures, imperceptible unless seen from above. Massive earthworks larger than the Great Pyramid at Cheops, hundreds of mounds no taller than a few feet strung together to create geometric designs only visible from space.

Splutters of “Oh, there must be some explanation” bounce off chimes of “is this one of those alien conspiracies” and “where did you read this”. Occasionally someone clicks with a genuine “holy crap”.

Take a moment to ponder – what was the population 8000 years ago in Kazakhstan? How many, and how long would it take Neolithic hunter/gatherers void of written language, the wheel, or anything other than stone tools to construct such a monument? Who did they think would see it?

Goosebumps prickle my arms – for 8,000 years not a soul noticed the Steppe Geoglyphs. It was all about Nazca until 2007, the year an amateur archaeologist using Google Earth tripped on ancient anomalies perplexing enough to kick history’s ass.

One of the enormous earthwork configurations photographed from space is known as the Ushtogaysky Square, named after the nearest village in Kazakhstan. Credit DigitalGlobe, via NASA


8 thoughts on “Ushtogaysky Square

  1. I often wonder what will be left of our current civilization in 2000 years, assuming we haven’t blown up the planet. I doubt that any of our current architecture will still be there in 2000 years. Or if it is, it will be in a worse state than our cathedrals and temples built 1000 or more years ago. Our present culture will have been drowned out by whatever follows next.

    But 8000 years? I suspect that the only thing left will be scars from our thoughtless exploitation of the earth. Perhaps some of our worst earth crimes will have been preserved as a monument to stupidity.

    There is a very good chance that the Kazakhstan geoglyphs were designed for eternity. They were built for us to find and respect. Isn’t that great? That these guys were concerned a legacy of that magnitude.

    Struggle as I may, I can’t think of anything that we are undertaking today that is designed to be forever. Or perhaps there is something. Science. The theories in maths & physics will still be known in 8000 years. I feel better all of a sudden.

  2. So, what’s this fascination you have with ancient history?
    I always thought the Nazca lines were skid-marks made at the Daytona 500.


    For me, while such achievements are mind-blowing, whenever i consider such structures I am always left wondering, not how they were built … but why build them?

    • Argh! Ancient history sparked cosmic wonder.I was feed Greek mythology by a mother sensible enough to realize the Bible wasn’t for me. I read Chariots of the Gods at 12, then spent decades explaining extraterrestrial life existed, but ancient aliens didn’t.
      Personally I find the why less remarkable than “how”. Why – presumably to speak to their Gods. How – defies explanation, it simply doesn’t fit with our historical template. Yikes, I sense a boisterous rant in the wings, one I’ll politely back away from. 🙂

  3. You only have to look at contemporary society to realize that we humans aren’t always very logical. We do many things, individually, and collectively, for reasons that don’t seem to make much sense. So, I tend to disregard questions like, “Who did they think would see it?” but their very existence – whether we recognized the monuments or not, for 100 years or 10,000 years says a lot about human motivation. Whether they were sending messages to aliens, or expecting the coming of God, or just as we with our VLA search for other life — just wondering if there’s anyone else out there. Whatever the motivation it’s not JUST the willingness to achieve significant projects —it that they all were done with such amazing accuracy that astounds me. They make our attempts at travel off the planet look puny when considered against the contrast in what they had for tools/skills/society.

    You may boggle my mind but boggling is a good thing — keep it up.

  4. I didn’t realise others had fun too … I use Goog as well; start at the Atacama Giant and move off into the hinterlands. A wee bit of imaginative use of human nature & geography and it doesn’t take long before you find signs of earthworks, walls, settlements and such.

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