Like most archaeologists, Andrey Astafyev has spent his life looking down.
Over the past two decades, the Russian scientist has walked the brown saltwort deserts of western Kazakhstan, carefully scanning its dust for clues dropped by the parade of humanity that once migrated through Central Asia: Stone Age hand axes, shell beads dating from the Bronze Age, arrowheads from the Silk Road era, and an occasional musket ball from forgotten 19th-century Tsarist forts. This winter, though, after climbing a remote mountain in his vast and largely unpopulated study area, Astafyev peered down at the landscape and decided to leave a few artifacts of his own. Big ones. Copying the designs of local petroglyphs, he used GPS technology, a quadrocopter drone, and a railroad tie roped to his car to sketch colossal geoglyphs across the steppe.
The result of five month’s toil? A 500-foot-long Argali sheep, a mounted archer taller than three football fields, a stylized camel stretching nearly a quarter mile from nose to tail, and two other gigantic motifs borrowed from local history. When Google Earth updates its satellite imagery of Central Asia, you’ll be able to appraise Astafyev’s artwork from orbit.