Mysterious Symbols in Kazakhstan Desert: How Old Are They, Really?

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A swastika-shaped geoglyph can be seen from above the Kazakhstan desert. Credit: Image copyright DigitalGlobe, courtesy Google Earth Enlarge

Sprawling earthen swastika designs, crosses and rings that cover part of Kazakhstan are becoming a little less mysterious: Archaeologists have found and investigated 60 of these symbols, called geoglyphs, and determined when they were created and what their potential function might have been.

The Kazakhstan geoglyphs, described at an archaeology conference in Istanbul and reported by Live Science last year, range in size from 90 to 400 meters (295 to 1,312 feet) across — longer than a commercial aircraft.

The earthen works take on various geometric shapes, including squares, crosses, rings and a swastika. In ancient times, the swastika was a common design with no political undertones. Though the swastika was created from timber, most of the geoglyphs were shaped from earth. [See Google Earth Images of the Sprawling Kazakhstan Geoglyphs]

Using a dating technique called optically stimulated luminescence (OSL), the archaeologists recently found that the structures were constructed starting around 2,800 years ago. They were built at the beginning of Kazakhstan’s “iron age,” when iron tools and weapons gradually replaced those made of bronze, said archaeologists Andrew Logvin and IrinaShevnina, both of Kostanay University in Kazakhstan.

The astronauts aboard the International Space Station may try to take images of the geoglyphs, Melissa Higgins, an earth science and remote sensing scientist at NASA, said in a phone conversation with Live Science. Whether the crew is able to take images depends on their schedule and whether sun elevation will allow them to capture photos of the geoglyphs, she said.

A New York Times report published on Oct. 30 suggested the geoglyphs (which the Times called “ancient earthworks”) date as far back as 8,000 years — which would make them older than any other such geoglyphs, including the famous Nazca Lines of Peru, which date to between 200 B.C. and A.D. 500.

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