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Archeologists Are so Baffled by These Strange Formations, They’ve Asked NASA for Help

Why the space agency’s eyes in the sky are suddenly trained on a remote area of Kazakhstan.

Image Courtesy of DigitalGlobe © 2015 // NASA

Just a few short years ago, few people outside the central Asian republic of Kazakhstan had ever heard of the Turgay geoglyphs, massive geometric earthwork configurations in the country's Kostani region. That all changed in 2007, when amateur archeologist and professional economist Dmitriy Dey happened upon the man-made features—squares, lines, and rings, all comprised of series of dirt mounds—while browsing satelite images of the area in Google Earth. Since then, the geoglyphs—some two hundred and sixty in all—have baffled researchers, who struggle to explain their purpose and history.

Enter, NASA.

Image Courtesy of DigitalGlobe © 2015 // NASA

While ostensibly focused on exploring the furthermost reaches of the cosmos, Gizmodo points out that NASA has increasingly become a valuable partner for archeologists eager to use the space agency’s satellites to examine sites of interest from high above. And so, responding to requests from scientists eager to gain a more detailed aerial perspective on these inexplicable structures, last month NASA released detailed images of some of the site’s most intriguing features, taken in 2012 in partnership with satellite imaging company Digital Globe. The space agency has also committed their astronauts aboard the International Space Station to further regional photography, reports The New York Times.

Particularly puzzling to archeologists is the estimated date of origin for the earliest of the geoglyphs: Estimated to be some 8,000 years old. This runs at odds against the prevailing historical understanding of the nomadic tribes believed to have roamed the region at that time. In an email to The Times, University of Winnipeg archeologist Persis B. Clarkson explains:

“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.”

Image Courtesy of DigitalGlobe © 2015 // NASA

For his part, Dey tells The Times that he believes the structures relate to ancient methods for tracking the movement of the sun, similar to other, more researched ancient undertakings, such as England’s Stonehenge.

NASA’s images have already helped jumpstart interest in the earthworks. And while, for the time being, researchers are still unclear what original purpose these structures served, the Turgay geoglyphs have joined other ancient archeological marvels, like Peru’s Nazca lines, in helping us reexamine the history of our planet, and the place of our ancestors on it.

[via inhabitat, the independent, ny times, gizmodo]

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