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Who made these circles in the Sahara?

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Someone left these marks in the sand. We had to find out who.

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Deep in the Sahara, far from any towns, roads, or other signs of life, is a row of markings in the sand. There are dozens of them stretching for miles in a straight line in central Algeria, each consisting of a central point surrounded by a circle of 12 nodes, like numbers on a clock. And when we started making this video, no one seemed to know what they were.

We first saw the circles back in September 2021, after finding a Reddit post on r/WhatIsThis with coordinates asking what the circles could be. With just two upvotes and two commenters, it wasn’t exactly a lively discussion. But seeing the circles themselves on Google Earth was fascinating: They were eerily perfect in their shape and regularity, but so deeply isolated in the desert. We were hooked on finding an answer.

So we decided to make a video out of trying to solve the mystery, no matter where it took us. We documented every step of the process — from Zoom calls and web browser screen recordings to vlogs and field shoots — to show the reporting process from the inside out. And when we maxed out what we could learn on the internet, we handed over this story to a team in Algeria to take it all the way.

Resources:

Check out the circles for yourself: https://www.google.com/maps/@27.27012...

Read Will K’s original post: https://www.reddit.com/r/Whatisthis/c...

Here’s the 1885 document that Melissa found: https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi...

Read Dale Lightfoot on the sustainability of qanats: https://link.springer.com/article/10....

My interview with Marta Musso didn’t make the final cut, but you can check out her work on the history of the hydrocarbon industry and Algerian decolonization: https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1mt...

I also spoke to Roberto Cantoni, who wrote a great book that covers the same history: https://www.taylorfrancis.com/chapter...

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posted by dulologiasb