6 Lesser-Known Geoglyphs Outside of Nazca

While the Nazca Lines of Peru are the best-known geoglyphs in the world, thousands of other glyphs around the world continue to dazzle citizens and researchers.

Jan 25, 2024By Lauren Lewis, MA History, BA History
lesser known geoglyphs

 

Although the Nazca Lines of Peru are the best-known geoglyphs out there, there are thousands of other glyphs around the world. Huge geoglyphs in the shape of humans, animals, and geometric shapes exist on nearly every continent.

 

1. The Uffington White Horse Geoglyph

uffington white horse geoglyph
Uffington White Horse, date unknown, via World History Encyclopedia

 

The only known pre-historic geoglyph in Europe, the Uffington White Horse, is a splendid sight to behold. Nestled on the upper slopes of Whitehorse Hill in Uffington, England, the horse stretches 360 feet (110 m) across the hill. The striking white chalk makes the horse stand out from the lush green grass.

 

Historians and archaeologists do not know what people created the glyph or why. Constructed between 1380 and 550 BCE, during the late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age, references to the White Horse have existed since medieval times. One legend stated that the glyph was carved to celebrate an Anglo-Saxon defeat of a Viking army in 875 CE. However, later excavations proved that the glyph is much older.

 

Other theories state that a pre-historic culture created the glyph to mark ownership of their land or that the horse corresponds to celestial or astronomical events. When viewed from a hill opposite the horse in midwinter, the sun rises behind the horse and, throughout the day, moves past it. Some archaeologists believe that this indicates that the horse represents a sun horse, an ancient Indo-European symbol representing the belief that a horse pulled the sun across the sky.

 

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No matter the purpose, the White Horse remains a significant cultural and historical artifact. Locals have maintained the site for centuries, ensuring the foliage doesn’t cover the horse.

 

2. The Atacama Giant

atacama giant geoglyph
El Gigante de Atacama, photo by Sznegra, February 27, 2008, via Wikimedia Commons

 

The Nazca Lines aren’t the only geoglyphs in South America. In the Atacama Desert in Chile, carved into a hillside, stands the Atacama Giant, the world’s oldest anthropomorphic geoglyph. This large, humanoid glyph stands at 390 feet (119 m) and is surrounded by thousands of smaller glyphs. It was created from stones and dirt and can be viewed from great distances.

 

The Tiwanaku people created the giant geoglyph over 1,000 years ago but the purpose of the glyph is unknown. Some believe that it served as an astrological tool because the lines on the head predict the moon’s movement and can help predict the changing of the seasons. Since the glyph is meant to be viewed from a distance, people could use it to predict the rainy season — a vital survival tool in the highly arid Atacama Desert.

 

Similar to the Nazca Lines, researchers believe that the glyph may have also served as a map or guide to finding important sites or resources. While the glyph resembles an alien, other researchers believe that the glyph represents one of the deities the region’s native cultures used to worship. The being’s right-hand holds a crosier, and by its knees are feathered decorations.

 

3. The Blythe Intaglios

blythe intaglios geoglyph
Blythe Intaglios, photo by Rsfinlayson, October 23, 2016, via Wikimedia Commons

 

The Blythe Intaglios, located in California along the Colorado River, are a series of six figures in three locations. Each location features a human figure with a four-legged creature or a spiral. The largest human figure is 171 feet long, with the other two being about 100 feet long. The animal glyphs are 50 feet long. The glyphs are dated between 450-2,000 years old. Natives created the glyphs by removing rock to expose the soil below.

 

The glyphs are hidden in the desert that hugs the Colorado River and weren’t rediscovered until 1932. A pilot flying from Blythe, California, to Las Vegas, Nevada, noticed the glyphs below. Since 1974, the Bureau of Land Management has had fences around the glyphs to protect the site’s integrity.

 

According to natives in the region (the Mohave and Quechans) the human figures represent Mastamho, the Creator of all life. The animal figures represent Hatakulya, one of two mountain lions/persons who helped in the Creation. They also state that in ancient times, the natives held ceremonial dances to honor the Creation. The Blyth Intaglios are best viewed from the air. Although other glyphs exist in the American West, the Blyth Intaglios are the most famous.

 

4. The Great Serpent Mound

great serpent mound
Great Serpent Mound, via Wikimedia Commons

 

The Great Serpent Mount stretches over 1,300 feet across a ridge in Adams County, Ohio. The serpent is 20 to 25 feet wide and averages heights between 4 and 5 feet. Since the mound does not contain artifacts, dating it has proven exceedingly difficult. Some researchers attribute its construction to the Early Woodland Adena culture, which occupied the area from 500 BCE to 200 CE, or to the Late Prehistoric Fort Ancient culture, which occupied the region from 1,000 to 1,650 CE. Most current research suggests that the Adena culture built the mound. Still, it is possible that multiple cultures maintained and used the site.

 

Graves and burial mounds nearby suggest the builders intended the structure to serve a burial function. The head faces east, and the tail faces west. The head aligns with the summer solstice sunset and the tail with the winter solstice sunrise. The shape of the snake closely resembles the constellation Draco, suggesting that the mound may serve an astrological purpose.

 

One of the most debated parts of the serpent mound is the egg-shaped object at the snake’s mouth. Some believe the shape merely shows the snake consuming an egg, while others believe the form represents the sun.

 

Research continues on the mound as archaeologists study the astrological and cultural significance of the mound. Despite, or because of, the mystery surrounding the Great Serpent Mound, the site remains an important historical, archaeological, and cultural artifact.

 

5. The Turgai Geoglyphs

turgai geoglyphs
The Ushtogay Square, via the Astana Times

 

Some of the most recently discovered geoglyphs are the Turgai Geoglyphs. Located in and named for the Turgai Trough in northern Kazakhstan, Dmitriy Dey discovered the glyphs in 2007 while studying satellite images from Google Earth. Dey presented his findings to the European Archaeological Association in 2014.

 

The site has earned the nickname “The Nazca lines of Kazakhstan” due to the large number of glyphs found. So far, researchers have discovered 260 giant glyphs. Unlike the Nazca Lines, which the natives created by removing the topsoil, the Turgai Geoglyphs were created by using rocks and dirt to build up mounds on the ground.

 

No one knows who created these glyphs or why but one of the oldest glyphs dates to 8,000 BCE. The glyphs are designed in geometric shapes, including squares, rings, crosses, and swastikas. They range in size from 90 to 400 meters (295 to 1300 feet) in diameter.

 

Archaeological excavations have found the remains of structures at the geoglyphs. These discoveries suggest that ancient tribes may have performed rituals at the sites. Other research indicates that ancient people may have used glyphs to mark their territory. Of course, other researchers hypothesize that ancient peoples used the glyphs as astrological observatories.

The glyphs are challenging to see from the ground but are viewable from the sky. Researchers continue to investigate the sites to learn more about their origins and purpose.

 

6. The Effigy Mounds

effigy mounds
Effigy mounds, via the National Parks Service

 

While many Native American cultures in North America built effigy and burial mounds, only those in the Upper Midwest created mounds shaped like birds, turtles, lizards, and other animals.

 

Located mainly in Iowa, Effigy Mounds National Monument houses around 200 of these mounds. Other mounds lie in the surrounding states. In addition to animal-shaped mounds, the mound builders also built linear and conical-shaped mounds.

 

Some mounds exist on their own, while others are organized in groups and one of the most prominent animal mounds is the bear. Native American legends state that the bear is the guardian of the Earth. Because there are so many mounds in the shape of a bear, the Natives could have used the mounds to establish a connection between the land and the spirit world.

 

effigy mounds bears
Effigy mounds with bears, by the National Parks Service, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Built during the Late Woodland Period (1,400-750 BCE), and stretching from the Upper Mississippi River to Lake Michigan, the mounds were used for ceremonial and burial purposes. Later cultures continued the tradition of mound building. About 4,000 mounds exist in the Upper Midwest, but estimates indicate there may have been up to 15,000. Many were destroyed by natural processes and human damage to the land.

 

Geoglyphs Around the World

blythe intaglios animal figure
Blythe Intaglios, animal figure, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Although the Nazca Lines are the most well-known geoglyphs in existence, there are thousands of glyphs around the world. Many of these glyphs were created hundreds to thousands of years ago by cultures that left no information about the building or purpose of their glyphs. Modern studies  generally agree that most glyphs were created for various reasons, including religious ceremonies, territorial designation, and astrological calendars or guides. While we may never know the true purposes of the glyphs, we can enjoy their beauty, engineering, cultural significance, and long-lasting nature.

Author Image

By Lauren LewisMA History, BA HistoryLauren is a contributing writer and historian with a passion for making history accessible and interesting for everyone. She holds an MA in History from Sam Houston State University and a BA in History from SUNY Plattsburgh. Lauren is a former teacher, freelance writer, and full-time wife and mom. In her spare time, she enjoys curling up with a good book and glass of wine, watching movies, and spending time with her family.