This poster is part of Preserving U.S. Military Heritage: WWII to the Cold War, Fredericksburg, Texas, June 4-6, 2019.
by Jeffrey R. Wedding and Susan R. Edwards
The term “geoglyph” typically evokes images of giant stylized creatures, imaginary beings or geometric forms sculpted into the landscape. These mysterious ancient earthworks appear across the globe from the Nazca Lines in Peru to the Steppe Geoglyphs in Kazakhstan to the Blythe Intaglios of the Mojave Desert. However, not all of these features are ancient. Modern populations have been known to produce their own geoglyphs. Like their prehistoric predecessors, many contemporary geoglyphs have spiritual or ceremonial significance, but others were created for primarily functional purposes.
Twentieth century military activities generated a range of landscape altering features that share many characteristics in common with the gigantic glyphs attributed to prehistoric groups. This is especially true once the military incorporated aircraft into their tactical arsenal. During WWII thousands of U.S. airmen were trained stateside before being sent to the various theaters of the global war. Evidence of the military exercises has survived embodied in the large figures of targets on the former precision bombing ranges. These Military Geoglyphs, a term first coined in New Mexico in the 2000s, take the form of trenches, aerial bombing targets, surface gunnery targets and navigation aids.
Easy access to satellite and aerial imagery readily available on the World Wide Web allows anyone with internet access, to become a geoglyph hunter. In such a fashion, the authors have located military geoglyphs in Idaho, Utah, Oregon, Nevada, and New Mexico. While our focus has been identifying these features on the arid, more sparsely vegetated, and less populated terrain of the western U.S, remnants of these military earthworks can be found across the country and around the globe. The authors will discuss environmental and other impacts faced by the landscape features, suggest some potential preservation and data collection measures, and present a classification scheme for these military features highlighted with photographic examples.
Jeffrey R. Wedding is an Assistant Research Scientist with the Desert Research Institute in Las Vegas, NV. His historical archaeology work has documented World War II and Cold War era military facilities and training complexes, hard rock mining camps, and transportation resources (particularly aviation and railroading). He also serves on the staff of the Nevada Aerospace Hall of Fame, and as an Associate Researcher at the Las Vegas Natural History Museum.
Susan R. Edwards, M.A., R.P.A, is an Associate Research Archaeologist and Historian with the Desert Research Institute in Nevada. With 35 years of experience, Ms. Edwards has spent much of her career engaged in documenting and interpreting science-related resources of the Cold War period. She is currently working on several articles on the archaeology of nuclear testing and a book on the B-29 Superfortress submerged at Lake Mead National Recreation Area.