Located in Central Asia, Kazakhstan is believed to be the world’s largest landlocked country and has a population of over 18 million people. Traditionally occupied by nomadic tribes since the Neolithic Age, the country’s climate and topography, which includes large stretches of flatlands and steppe, are ideal for pastoralism. According to a series of satellite images, recently captured by NASA, the region is also home to mysterious 8,000-year-old structures that look somewhat like ancient crop circles.
Known as the Steppe Geoglyphs, these strange formations, featuring a variety of shapes and designs, have left scientists completely baffled. While very little is actually known about their purpose and mode of construction, researchers believe that untangling the mystery could help improve their understanding of early humans. Carved onto the ground, these colossal patterns were likely built by arranging heaps of dirt into rings, squares and even swastika shapes.
The earthworks are made up of nearly 260 designs, with the oldest one constructed more than 8,000 years ago. NASA, however, is not the first to spot them. Back in 2007, Dmitriy Dey, an economist and Kazakh enthusiast, stumbled upon these ancient geoglyphs, while searching for pyramids using Google Earth. In spite of widespread curiosity about the ancient carvings, Kazakh government has done little to uncover the mystery. In fact, the photographs taken by NASA mark the first ever attempt made to catalog and study them.
The discovery is significant because the area surrounding the formations was once a major hunting ground for Stone Age tribes. Indeed, what is truly puzzling about these structures is the question of how such a primitive nomadic population managed to construct these elaborate and incredibly time-consuming structures. Speaking about the find, Persis B Clarkson, a professor of archaeology at the University of Winnipeg, said:
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.
Since their discovery, a lot has been speculated about the purpose of the Steppe Geoglyphs. While some believe the creations represent an early form of art, others point to the possibility that they could have been ancient solar observatories. The structures have also been associated with aliens and even Nazis because of the presence of the swastika sign.