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