Friday, April 6, 2012


I have blogged about petroglyphs before (see Scratchings and "TRENT"), but never about geoglyphs, either the well-known Nazca Lines in Peru or the lesser-known markings in England, Australia, and the U.S. (take a virtual world of ancient and modern geoglyphs here). I even skipped over the weird news that broke a couple of years ago about geoglyphs exposed in the Amazon rainforest after clear-cutting. But described in the most recent issue of Antiquity is an extraordinary geoglyph - found by satellite imagery and visible on Google Earth (coordinates: 54°56'33"N, 59°11'32"E) - in an entirely different part of the world. At an undetermined time in the past, an ancient people carried out the large-scale project on a slope in what is now Zjuratkul National Park (1st image) in the southern Urals of Russia. By systematically arranging and layering large and small stones (2nd image) in a trench 2-4m wide, they created the image of a large hoofed animal with 4 legs, 2 antlers, and a large projecting muzzle (3rd image), probably an elk. The figure measures 218m x 195m and would have been visible from the height of an adjacent ridge. The use of the native white quartzite meant that the figure would initially have looked white and slightly shiny against the green grass background, with subsequent infilling of dust and soil turning much of it grey. The accumulation of soil over the virgin soil of the trench suggests that the geoglyph possibly dates back as far as the Neolithic age, 7,000-9,000 years ago, but probably more recently. It would have been laid out in an open landscape, which puts it at 2,500 years ago, when forests developed in the area. The Russian elk differs in technique than the geoglyphs in the West, though - like them - the figure certainly had a cultic character. "There are, to our knowledge, no analogues for our figure in continental Eurasia," write Stanislav A. Grigoriev of the Russian Academy of Sciences and Nikolai M. Menshenin of the State Centre for Monument Protection, Chelyabinsk. They indicate that research including further excavation, radiocarbon and luminescence dating, and palynological and petrographic analyses will shed more light on this unique elk.

Here's what Sam Pickering has said about my new book:

"Dissection on Display is an astonishingly interesting and good book - learned, well-written, and filled with quick, not dead, anecdotes. Bodies sold for dissection on the basis of their length--what a thing! And the poor Hottentot Venus! Before reading your book, I had not thought about the distinction between an autopsy and a dissection. Richard Grazemark seems, alas, a modern--such horrors never end. But, golly, this is a fine scholarly book, one that informs and entertains and the combination makes it a rarity."

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