17 January 2012

I always wonder what's under sand dunes

I spent a long time looking at this photo of a sandy desert (?the Atacama?) somewhere in Chile.  Whenever I see sand dunes, I start to wonder what might be underneath them.  Dunes move, and in so doing can bury anything in their path.  I remember reading stories* about Hollywood movie sets abandoned decades ago now emerging as the California desert dunes that covered them up now move onward.  When glaciers retreat, archaeologists find well-preserved artifacts from prehistoric times.

What's under these dunes?  Remnants of old cities?  Burial sites?  Fire rings?  Fossils?  Diamonds?  Alien artifacts?  Sandworms?

Photo credit Jerome Prevost/Associatied Press/Pool, from a photoessay on the Dakar Rally.

*A hat tip to twoeightnine for locating a story in the Los Angeles Times re the (intentional) burial of a Cecil B. DeMille set for The Ten Commandments in the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes.


  1. The spice must flow!

  2. I don't know if it was really below "dunes" but the desert episode of BBC's Human Planet has an amazing segment about mining the aquifer under the Sahara by hand to create miles long tunnels with water flowing from them to create oases.

  3. The California dunes didn't actually cover the set themselves. The director had them bulldozed and covered to save money. http://articles.latimes.com/2010/mar/18/local/la-me-lostcity19-2010mar19

  4. Thank you, twoeightnine. I've added your link to the post. :.)

  5. Interesting, I've never thought about this before. Will never look at a sand dune the same way again.

    The sphynx comes to mind. But never heard of an archaeological dig under the sand.


  6. "I always wonder what's under sand dunes"

    Here's a clue: catnaps.org/islamic/geography.html#landsoil

  7. Thank you for the link, John, and for bringing up two pleasant memories - gypsum desert roses, which I spent a wonderful day digging from the salt plains of Oklahoma one summer (and still have in the file cabinet in my office), and sharks teeth, one of which my wife found in Florida (and I proceded to lose in the rental car).

  8. This desert city was uncovered in 2005 but I learned of it just recently.


  9. Some of the ancient cities of Sumer basically look like sand mountains, and there are some in South America as well. Wouldn't be the first time a pyramid/city was mistaken for a mountain.

  10. Your question reminded of of the following passage:

    "What we chiefly heard in these conversations was that, under the sands of the present-day desert, villages and even entire cities lay buried, and that these sands also covered many treasures and other riches of the ancient peoples who had inhabited this once flourishing region. It was said that information about the location of these riches was known to certain men living in the neighbouring villages and was handed down from father to son under vows of secrecy. The violation of these vows, as many had already learned, entailed a punishment whose severity depended upon the importance of the secret betrayed.
    Repeated mention was made of a certain region of the Gobi Desert where, it seemed, it was definitely known to many that a great city lay buried; and in this connection there were a number of suspicious indications, not contradictory to each other, which seriously interested many of us, particularly Professor Skridlov, the archaeologist, who was among the members of our expedition."

    Meetings with Remarkable Men

  11. Found at Google Books. Thanks, Zak.

    Re the Gobi, see this old post on the legendary Mongolian Death Worm -


    - and this one about an extraordinary oasis -


  12. This is just such a beautiful picture. This did make me stare and think. How fascinating!

  13. If it was in the Sahara, under the sand you could find things like Gobero and its burials:


    In Chile's Atacama, you can find stuff also above the sand... like the 5,000 geoglyphs. One of them is quite famous: the "Gigante de Atacama". :) And, of course, many pre-columbian sites, with "pucarás" (ruins of fortifications) under and above sands.


    However, the most striking monument is more recent. It's called "Mano del Desierto", a beautiful sculpture by Mario Irarrázabal. It can give you new ideas for what may be under those sands. :)


  14. I do have some links re using ground-penetrating radar to find old features, and some speculation re finding Cambyses lost army. For later.

    That sculpture, btw, is way cool.


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