Big Ashutastinsky Cross
Big Ashutastinsky Cross (Photo: DigitalGlobe, Inc via NASA)

In our increasingly global and tech-savvy society, it may seem as though there aren't many groundbreaking geographical discoveries left to make — but this couldn't be further from the truth. If anything, the vast amount of technology at our fingertips is allowing us to see the world like we've never seen it before.

One great example of this is the discovery of Kazakhstan's Steppe Geoglyphs, a series of 260 Neolithic-era mounds and ramparts that were constructed in distinct patterns and shapes in the country's northern Turgai region.

The person responsible for the initial discovery is Dmitriy Dey, a Kazakh economist and archaeology buff who came across these exquisite earthworks in 2007 while scouring Google Earth satellite imagery for pyramids. Dey released his findings to the scientific community in 2014, and now NASA has stirred more curiosity by releasing images of the mounds.

Bestamskoe Ring (left) Ushtogaysky Square (right)
Bestamskoe Ring (left) Ushtogaysky Square (right) (Photo: DigitalGlobe, Inc via NASA)

Captured from 430 miles above the planet's surface, the NASA images show a fascinating variety of patterns, ranging from dotted mounds of squares, crosses and circles, toan elaborate three-sided, curly-tipped swastika-esque design (below).

Although they have been named the Steppe Geoglyphs, Dey and other scientists agree that the word geoglyph might not be entirely accurate. Geoglyphs, such as Peru's famous Nazca Lines, generally imply an artistic intention, but the earthworks in Kazakhstan are believed to be more functional than aesthetic.

"I don’t think they were meant to be seen from the air," Dey tells the New York Times. Rather, he believes that the mounds and ramparts were constructed as "horizontal observatories to track the movements of the rising sun."

Turgai Swastika
Turgai Swastika (Photo: DigitalGlobe, Inc via NASA)

Regardless of their purpose, perhaps the most fascinating thing about the mysterious structures is that they're changing how scientists view ancient nomads.

As Persis B. Clarkson, an archaeologist at the University of Winnipeg, explains in the New York Times, "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."

Catie Leary ( @catieleary ) writes about science, travel, animals and the arts.