10 Mysterious Geoglyphs Around the Globe

Ancient mysteries

Photo: Dom Crossley/Flickr

Around the world, ancient cultures have constructed mysterious geoglyphs — large motifs etched into the landscape — which often can only be viewed from the air. Because these features were created at a time before air travel was possible, their existence has led to speculation about their origins. Who was the intended audience for these geoglyphs? Who built them? What was their purpose?

Here's our list of 10 of the biggest, most mysterious features that can only be spied from the air. (Text: Bryan Nelson)

Nazca Lines

Paul Williams/flickr.

Perhaps the most famous of geoglyphs, the Nazca Lines can be found in the Nazca Desert in southern Peru and have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Scholars believe they were created sometime between 200 B.C. and 500 A.D.

They consist of hundreds of figures, many of which depict animals such as hummingbirds (pictured here), sharks, monkeys, spiders, orcas, lizards and even an alleged "spaceman."

The purpose and meaning of the Nazca Lines remain a mystery today, though a number of theories have been posited. Some have hypothesized that they were intended to be seen by the Nazca culture's sky gods; others have suggested they may have an astronomical purpose. There are even those who suggest they were constructed to communicate with alien visitors.

Marree Man

Peter Campbell/Wikimedia Commons.

This impressive geoglyph found in the Australian outback depicts an indigenous man hunting birds or wallabies with a throwing stick. The Marree Man is the second largest geoglyph in the world. Only just discovered in 1998, researchers have determined that it was created in modern times. Nevertheless, its origin, meaning and purpose remain a mystery.

At the time of its discovery, there was only one track entering and one track exiting the site, and no footprints or tire marks could be found. No one has come forward claiming responsibility for creating the Marree Man.

Works of the Old Men

Google Maps.

Recent aerial photography has revealed extensive geoglyphs scattered across Saudi Arabia, Syria and Jordan depicting an array of “wheels,” among other motifs. Dubbed the “Works of the Old Men,” the features are believed by some to be several thousand years old, which would make them far older than the more famous Nazca Lines.

There is no agreement on two key questions: When were they built? And why?

Uffington White Horse

USGS.

This highly stylized prehistoric hill figure, dubbed the Uffington White Horse, is in the county of Oxfordshire, England. Scholars suggest the feature, which is formed from deep trenches filled with crushed white chalk, was probably first created during the Bronze Age between 1200 B.C. and 800 B.C.

Though it is widely believed to depict a horse, there are some who claim it more closely resembles a big cat of some kind, which would be a mystery indeed, as there are no big cats that roam Great Britain.

Paracas Candelabra

Wikimedia Commons.

This stunning geoglyph can be found on the northern face of the Paracas Peninsula at Pisco Bay in Peru, and is believed to date to around 200 B.C. Its purpose and meaning are unknown, though speculative theories abound.

Local legend suggests it represents the lightning rod or staff of the god Viracocha, who was worshipped throughout South America. But others have suggested it could have been constructed as a sign to sailors, or even as a symbolic representation of a hallucinogenic plant called Jimson weed.

Blythe Intaglios

Wikimedia Commons.

These remarkable intaglios (anthropomorphic geoglyphs) are found near Blythe, Calif., in the Colorado Desert, along the Colorado River. Created simply by scraping away layers of darker rocks to reveal the lighter rocks beneath, the figures have remained preserved over the millennia thanks to the dryness of the region.

Believed to have been originally created by the Mojave and Quechan Indians around A.D. 1000, the figures weren't discovered until 1932, when a pilot happened to look down and notice them.

Amazonian geoglyphs

Sanna Saunaluoma/Wikimedia Commons.

Since the 1970s, deforestation has revealed a complex network of mysterious ancient geoglyphs in the Amazon basin, possibly built by a lost Pre-Columbian civilization.

If this is true, it could completely rewrite the book on ancient cultures and population density of prehistoric South America.

Cerne Abbas Giant

Wikimedia Commons.

Unlike many other geoglyphs mentioned on this list, the Cerne Abbas Giant, located near the village of Cerne Abbas in Dorset, England, is likely not a prehistoric creation. The earliest mention of its existence occurs as recently as the 17th century. Even so, its creation and meaning remain shrouded in mystery.

The figure is most notable for its depiction of a giant man with an erect penis. It has been called "Britain's most famous phallus," and has become a popular tourist attraction.

Russian geoglyph

Google Earth.

This mysterious geoglyph, depicting an elk or a moose, was found on slopes of the Zyuratkul Mountains in the Chelyabinsk region in Russia and might be the oldest geoglyph yet discovered. Stone tools found alongside the feature have been dated to the Neolithic or Chalcolithic periods between 4000 and 2000 B.C. It's therefore possible that it was constructed by an ancient "megalithic culture," researchers have said.

Atacama Giant

Emilio/flickr.

At a height of 119 meters (390 feet), the Atacama Giant is the largest prehistoric anthropomorphic figure in the world. Located in the Atacama Desert, Chile, it is believed to represent a deity for the local inhabitants who created it between A.D. 1000 and 1400. But the figure has also been the subject of wild theories about its meaning that involve conjectures about alien visitations.