Decoding the 'desert kite' on the Ustyurt plateau

Ustyurt is located in Central Asia, spanning Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The annual rainfall here is only 120mm, the extreme temperature ranges from 40oC to minus 40oC, not suitable for human living.

But also in Ustyurt, appeared a series of ancient monuments such as long and wide walls. Seen from above, they resemble a kite.

Amazing salt desert

Picture 1 of Decoding the 'desert kite' on the Ustyurt plateau
Ustyurt is empty but beautiful shimmering.

Ustyurt is 200,000km2 wide, with an average height of 150m and the highest point at 370m. It is located between the Caspian Sea and the Aral Sea, an extremely remote, desolate land.

About 21 million years ago, Ustyurt sank under the Tethys Sea (the ancient ocean that formed the Black, Aral and Caspian seas today). Geological activity gradually pushed it up, leaving a thick layer of salt.

Over tens of millions of years, the surface of Ustyurt has been affected by weather. The limestone cliffs appear, worn away, exhibiting strange shapes. Below them, huge salt pans and shallow lakes appeared.

In summer, the temperature in Ustyurt reaches 40oC. The sun burned the ground, making the surface of the salt dry and white. In the early dawn, Ustyurt is like a sea of ​​sparkling salt crystals, fresh and beautiful. Under the sunset, it was tinged with red.

On the chalky white slopes, scattered bones, shark teeth, shells and fossils of marine life. In the clay-rich area, the landscape of Ustyurt is empty, rust-colored hills. They are not as splendid as the salt hills, but still have their own charm.

In winter, Ustyurt can go down to - 42oC. Amidst the extreme cold temperatures, its landscape remains ravishing.

'Desert Kite'

Picture 2 of Decoding the 'desert kite' on the Ustyurt plateau
The desert kite is most likely a trap, used to capture wild ungulates.

Rainfall in Ustyurt is only 120 mm/year. With a salt surface and too low humidity, it is not suitable for plants to grow, except for some "survival masters" such as cacti, sage, salt grass.

Although spread across three countries, Ustyurt has only a few nomadic tribes that choose to make a living. In 1920, while flying over the Middle East, British and French military pilots witnessed an unexpected sight on the ground.

It is a series of magnificent structures, consisting of two or more rows of large stones, leading to a giant stone circle. From above, they look like arrows and kites, named Desert Kites.

In 1952, Russian archaeologist and ethnologist - Sergey Tolstov visited Ustyurt, witnessed the 'desert kite' and dated it. They are over 2,000 years old, he reports, and are made of local stone.

For the Middle East region, the 'desert kite' is a familiar ancient construction. It appears scattered throughout the Levant, Saudi Arabia, Armenia, Yemen. it is estimated that there are a total of 5,800 pieces.

The size of each large and small 'desert kite' is different, but the construction form is similar. That is to use soil and rock to fill it up. Archaeologists speculate that the 'desert kite' is a house or barn for livestock.

Animal traps?

Picture 3 of Decoding the 'desert kite' on the Ustyurt plateau
'Desert kite' ruins are scattered throughout Ustyurt.

Ustyurt's 'desert kites' possess a rock cover half a mile or more (over 0.8km). Many sections of the contour have collapsed, the rock crumbled, mixed with the surrounding stones and disappeared. Most of the extant segments are only about 30cm high.

After examining a number of 'kites', Tolstov discovered that some remained in use until the mid-twentieth century. However, people do not use it to house or keep livestock, but to trap animals.

The Ustyurt Plateau lies on the migratory route of many Central Asian wildlife such as donkeys, sheep, antelopes. In late summer, they flock to each other across the 'kite-infested' areas.

According to Tolstov, in ancient times, Ustyurt was also a grazing point for nomadic tribes. The ancient inhabitants purposefully piled stones into structures with passages and enclosures, brought in hoofs of all kinds, and used them as food.

At the very least, Ustyurt was a favorite hunting spot for local nomads from the Iron Age to the early twentieth century. About 25 years ago, Ustyurt still had tens of thousands of saiga antelope running by.

"In the beginning, the hunters did not kill but just caught enough to eat," archaeologist Andrey Astafyev (Kazakhstan) said. Ustyurt's wildlife only deteriorated as it entered the 1990s, a time when the Soviet Union collapsed and Central Asia was severely impacted. Many workers fell into unemployment, turned to hunting animals (especially saiga antelope horns), smuggling for a living.

Today, Ustyurt tightens its grip on conservation. In the Ustyurt Nature Reserve in Kazakhstan, nearly 300 species of flora and fauna are strictly protected.

Recently, Kazakhstan cooperated with Uzbekistan, drastically saving the saiga antelope that is on the verge of extinction. These 'desert kites' are no longer in use, continuing to crumble on their own. Even the sturdy ones could not trap anything but the sun and wind of the steppe.