Desert Oddities – WIF Geography

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Strange Things


in the Desert

Deserts are nature’s perfect hiding places for strange things. The climate can be so hostile to traverse that few people will risk dying after a few hours exposure in the hopes of finding something worthwhile. The lack of even basic of life forms, like bacteria in some deserts, mean that bizarre and mysterious objects can be preserved much longer and more often than normal.

 The extreme environment is also good for creating all sorts of novel flora and fauna. For unsavory types, the desert is perfect for doing nefarious deeds, where they imagine there wouldn’t be prying eyes to worry about. So let’s search the sands, seeking something strange.

10. Chinese Desert Patterns

In 2011, Google Earth users found objects in Gobi Desert areas of China’s Xinjiang and Gansu provinces that made the supposedly paranormal crop circles look downright quaint. While a few large buildings were quickly identified, the more intriguing and seemingly haphazardly designed collections of white lines carved into the ground defied any immediate explanation and came off as especially suspicious for having been made in remote areas. These were not small objects, either.

The Guardian reported that some stretched out for as much as roughly half a mile to 1.15 miles.

The answer turned out to be a little ingenious but relatively benign. They’re used by the Chinese government to orient their spy satellites and calibrate their lenses. Knowing the relative distances and angles for different portions of the pattern allows the satellite operators to know if they’re reading certain distances properly or how well the focus is working. These, it should be noted, are not secret satellites, and it’s not a practice that’s unique to China, either. There’s one in Casa Grande, Arizona that serves the same purpose and which dates back to the 1960s.

9. Ancient Egyptian Burial Boat

For ancient Egyptians, it was fairly common practice to include a vehicle of some kind in the tomb. The famous tomb of King Tut had six chariots in it. Others favored putting boats in theirs, and this was hardly restricted to the elites. Even the peasant class would put cheap but affordable reed boats in their graves with them. But one that was discovered in the Saharan desert after 4,500 years in the sands of the Abusir Necropolis was quite baffling.

This vessel, unearthed in 2016, was sixty feet in length, only about six feet shorter than a warship of the time. It was made of especially high-quality wood, hence it still being relatively intact when it was excavated. What was odd was that it wasn’t buried in the grave of a noble, or a general, or anyone like that. Instead, the person entombed with it was a commoner. How could a peasant have afforded such a boat? How could the family have possibly afforded to pay to have the equivalent of a destroyer buried with him, or even have it transported inland? The answer for people curious about the true nature of the past is frustratingly lost to the sand swirls history.

8. Desert Graveyard for Sea Mammals

Speaking of graveyards, the mystery boat is hardly alone in terms of finding surprising burial sites in the sands. In the Atacama Desert in Chile, there’s a hill called Cerro Ballena (“Whale Hill”) forty meters above sea level that, during roadwork in 2010, was found to contain fossils of forty whales along with a collection of other marine mammals such as dolphins and seals, not to mention some fish related to swordfish. It initially seemed like an amazing case of mass fossilization: How could dozens of animals of various species have all died at once, and in so many cases have been preserved?

The most accepted explanation is that the numerous mammals and fish were deposited over time, and that the hill in question happened to be a place where the bodies were washed up, only to have nature preserved them for six to nine million years. The rather worrying suspect of the deaths that left them to washed up on land was a spontaneous algae infection. True or not, it certainly left an unusual resting place for quite a menagerie.

7. Sudden Tunisian Desert Lake

Desert Oddities

– WIF Geography

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