Mysterious geological features generating intrigue

Within the last month I noticed that many of the places I kept researching were linked back to posts put on here (AO).

Thus, instinctively and somewhat impulsively, I signed up for a membership to check out the discussions and hopefully connect further with like-minded individuals in search of mysterious structures from ages past.

My intention is to continually update this with new finds, revelations, surrounding stories, and as with any good mystery leave it open ended for contemplation.

Most recent intrigue: underwater “paths” or lines found on Google Earth within the California Baja.


such a lovely, informative post!

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Not geological, but rather geographic? Human geographical, I guess?

There’s this huge square on the Eastern panhandle of the Mexican state of Chiapas, near the Guatemala border, that I’ve been intrigued by since I first saw it:

Not only is it the square shape, but being surrounded by green, it appears that it is privately owned land in the middle of a natural protected area. But the different shades of green hint at different levels of protection (natural park compared to a biosphere reserve, for example).

I haven’t done full, deep research on it, but quick Google searches have turned up nothing. It all seems based on technicalities, though, since you can’t even see it on satellite views, using that lake in the middle as reference:

By contrast, those straight lines further north very clearly show the border between Guatemala’s natural protected areas and Mexico’s more deforested side.

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Regarding the original post in this thread:
As a geologist with experience looking at sea floor topography (bathymetry) as part of a geologic research ship expedition, I can definitively say that these lines are geologic research ships tracks where bathymetry data have been collected. There are higher resolution data (more detail) of the sea floor topography along these tracks. Outside the tracks, things are smoother because we have not explored these areas in detail. The deep trenches in the southwestern portion of the picture are plate tectonic geologic features called transform faults.
Here is a brief article about the geologic structures in the Gulf Of California from the MBARI Oceanographic Research Institute.
I love talking about geology so feel free to ask questions about this or any other topics in geology.


Aren’t squares well, square? 4 equal sides? I’d call it a quadrilateral or a trapezium (if top and bottom sides are parallel)

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The off-white trapezoid shape along with the light green also-trapezoid within the darker green form a shape closer to a square (maybe rectangle, I did not actually measure the sides).

This one off the coast of Oaxaca is a single shade. Another possibility is that there is gno actual on-the-ground difference in any of these, maybe just Google/their source missing or mis-entering data:

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Awesome information!! But I must be as dumb as a rock (lol)because I am unable to ascertain exactly where your reference points are on the map. I do see a facility of sorts in the upper right , which might be a good landmark for someone such as I!! (LOL) Thank you for your research and posting. I will try again later .

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I am overjoyed to see you’ve come onboard, here at AO, kateg. Nothing like having a geologist on call for reality checks. As one who has wrestled with the ambiguities distinguishing the anthropogenic modified from the merely weird geologically natural, I became aware of the pitfall of mapping artifacts misidentified as physical structures through cordial exchanges with Angela Micol of Satellite Discoveries who had assisted me by providing satellite images of specific sites that were inaccessible for ground truthing by direct observation. In the course of determining whether the semi-circular features in Childress Creek were cultural or natural phenomena, (natural, confirmation 2018) I glanced around some of her other images that included purported sunken cities off the continental shelves. Most of them turned out to be the product of grid mapping with no corresponding physical features. A similar error was generating in converting JPL’s images from their Mars mapping project and interpreting them in terms of actual topography. Muddying the waters were the sensationalists and opportunists generating bizarre “theories” from these images and marketing them to the general public. But adding more mud to the mess were the actual discoveries of real sunken cities off the coasts of Spain and North Africa such as Heracleion. It wasn’t until 1999 that French underwater archaeologist, Franck Goddio confirmed the date of the city’s high point between the 4th and 6th century BCE. The spectacular artifacts he retrieved were splashed across popular media and created a greater sensation than any fringe cult showpiece since Cydonia and the Face on Mars. Nothing beats empirical tangible evidence on display for anyone to see.
Closer to home the Clovis artifacts and mammoth bones found at McFadden Beach were traced to the Flower Mound feature 100 miles off the Texas coast. Andy Hemmings prior to his rise to notoriety for his underwater discoveries and reopening of the Old Vero Beach site in Florida had attempted to dredge more artifacts from Flower Mound aboard Texas A&M’s floating archaeological lab with no success. Not surprising for what amounted to a search for a needle in ten thousand haystacks. A similar situation occurred offshore from Vancouver, BC when incredibly old artifacts were fortuitously dredged up with no more to follow. This has been going on for some time and despite great advances in science we still do not have the requisite technology to explore the continental shelves as thoroughly as terrestrial sites. And I need not tell you that a lot hinges on developing that technology across the spectrum of earth sciences.
And finally, I will address one of the most vexing yet rewarding problems I’ve personally encountered, and that is of natural objects repurposed for a variety of human uses. Most illustrative are disc shaped sandstone concretions I’ve seen from Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, to Germany and the Giza plateau. Others have been documented in Utah, Ohio, Peru .and Turkey. They’ve served as sun dial pedestals, kiva pillar supports, sugar cane crushers, seals for cliff burials, rolling doors and pottery wheels. The eras represented range from the Bronze Age to the Proto-Historic (discounting modern decorations and backyard curio collections). Right now there is an explosion of renewed interest and excavations throughout the West Coast and Great Basin pushing the entry dates for the Indigenous Americans back thousands of years. I’ve recently been overloaded with more data than I can process in a dozen years from that area, though I can say without reservation, you are in the right place at the right time, in the right occupation, but I don’t have to tell you that. I think you will make a tremendous asset to the AO community and I hope you like it here.


Thanks, TexArcana!

Thank you for such an informative and detailed response! I love it when I stumble upon these mysterious things and brighter minds, as yourself, can provide the wisdom to enlighten my curiosity.
During the timeframe I was trying to find an answer to those ‘tracks’, I also came across another mysterious feature between the Island of Cocos and Costa Rca:

Have any insight?


Amazing stuff there TexArcana! The perplexing ancient structures and stories surrounding them is the kind of information I can never seem to get enough of. My day job is in transportation and thankfully it takes me all over the state of Colorado; I get to see some incredible geology and very interesting structures.
Do you have any information on where I could look up the research being done on the West Coast or Great Basin?


i cant imagine that :smiling_face_with_three_hearts:

Thanks for the kind words. The best place to start is a These papers may be read by anyone but most of the content tends toward the technical side. However most have numerous illustrations and maps. You will have to research further from the content to see if these are accessible by the general public. Even if the site itself is restricted you can usually visit the general area from a public road (not all are paved and some will require an offroad vehicle and some serious hiking.) Do not ignore precautions for travel in these areas eg. plenty of water, sun protection, appropriate clothing and footwear, biohazards, animal, vegetable and mineral. In parts of this region it is literally a matter of life and death. Here is a link to some of the most current research in the Great Basin by Greg White. In the sidebar to right you will find related papers that will point you toward other sites.

As far as Western Colorado goes, use the search bar for my old buddy, Jason M. LaBelle. When I began to correspond with him, Jason was a grad student of David Meltzer, the head of SMU anthropology department and working at the Gault site. He’s now a full professor at Colorado State University. Here is a link to his work on the benchmark Folsom site, Lindenmeier, with David Meltzer and other SMU grad students who went on to hit the big time like Jason.

Again check the sidebar for many others like it. I’m tempted to give you other names like Gary Haynes, who have done top notch investigations in the desert Southwest but if you caught the bug you’d be buried alive in data like me. If that happens (don’t say I didn’t warn you), for about ten bucks American a month you can become a member of and begin to cultivate invaluable international contacts who are experts in whatever interests you, not limited to just earth sciences and anthropology. For those who like to have a first hand look for themselves, and Atlas Obscura fit hand in glove. Several of the articles here by Jonathan and Isaac overlap with current archaeological and geological research as well as others in the Atlas Gastromica section that you might not expect.


I regret that I cannot give you more specific information on those tracks but you can factor in this factoid that I ran across in researching the Diquis spheres of Costa Rica and the stone spheres of Jalisco Mexico. I found mention of others in the Big Bend area of Texas but I have not mounted a Great Snipe Hunt to return there and search for them. Look for the discussion here on Big Bend and you might find other AO members who are up for it. In 1968, Matthew Stirling, an archaeologist with National Geographic who studied the Diquis spheres mentioned more to be found in Jalisco, Mexico and USGS geologist Robert Smith mounted a combined NatGeo/Smithsonian expedition to check them out. They turned out to be natural and composed of a different igneous stone than the gabbro natural stone boulders that had been tediously turned into near perfect spheres by the indigenous people of Costa Rica beginning around 300 CE last I read. The geological mechanism by which the Jalisco spheres formed is fairly fascinating in itself. This link will provide you with a good overview of both that you can further investigate from the references given.

Aferwards, visit my website at and feast your eyes on various spheroids I have found together with examples from all around the world. It’s in a gallery called “spheroids”

I hesitate to send you down the bottomless rabbit maze connected to Costa Rica’s mysterious culture that sculpted those stone spheres and perhaps those tracks in your Cocos Island photo and those curious tracks on Malta that dead end in the sea before continuing. The usual smoke and mirrors of modern mythology will bedazzle you and obscure the path to “Just the facts, ma’am”. However in the course of my own maze running Dr. Harry Shafer, a Texas archaeolgist who had done work in Belize on some very interesting Maya ruins sent me a paper one of his grad students had done on the Maya port of Cerritos during the Post Classic Maya Maritime which brought me full circle back to Texas and the extensive trade routes up the Trinity and all the way to Spiro, Oklahoma and beyond. I’d been chasing down Cabeza de Vaca’s emerald arrowheads as a result of finding some interesting green stuff twenty miles east of where I live. But that just made me turn around to the Sierra Navaja west of Tampico. Like I said, the maze has many side tracks and you can become hopelessly lost connecting the dots many miles from home. Hope this helps or at least does not hinder your inquiry.

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Those are definitely ship tracks in the region around Cocos Island to Costa Rica.
Here is an article describing what is going on geologically. In the article, the subheading “Observations” gives an overview of the plate tectonics in that region. Note in Figure 1 that Cocos Island is labeled as ISCO (Isla del Coco).

In the Google Earth imagery you posted, you’ll notice that within the ship tracks you see more detail on topography. For example, if you go northeast from the word “Island” you’ll see bumps that are undersea volcanoes. Bumps that are outside the ship tracks are smooth because we don’t know what they look like in detail.

Interestingly, the vast majority of the sea floor is unexplored. Research ships tend to stick around tectonically interesting (e.g. volcanos, tectonic plate boundaries) locales. If you want to know where the most active plate tectonics are in the Google imagery, just look for ship tracks. To get a broader view of the Google imagery, zoom out so you can see the whole Pacific. All those straight lines are ship tracks.

Let me know if you want some good intro information on plate tectonics as I don’t know how familiar you are with the topic.

A better source for looking at the sea floor features is to look at satellite data that measures the height of the sea surface. Due to gravity, water above a sea floor volcano will bulge up higher, and over the valleys the sea surface is relatively lower. Our ocean is not flat like bathtub water.
Check out this website. Here, you can see the above mentioned sea surface satellite data. It is not as detailed or as high in resolution as the ship tracks on Google Earth, but it gives you a view of features on the sea floor. In this imagery, the straight lines are mid ocean ridges and transform faults. You won’t see ship tracks in this imagery, since it was created from satellite measurements. (To learn more about how the imagery was created you can google “marine gravity” or “satellite gravity”. there is also a link in the website with more info.

UPDATE: for clarification: you CAN see where the ship tracks are in the satellite gravity imagery. They are overprinted on the satellite data, but not part of that data. As with Google Earth imagery, the more detailed lines show the shiptracks. You will need to zoom it to the max to find where the ship tracks are.

UPDATE #2: here’s a website with a video explanation of sea floor topography and satellite/marine gravity. This is really cool!!!


In going through some old messages at I found this one that had eluded me when I posted those references for those interested in Great Basin/California archaeological/geological sites they might have a chance to visit. This is a paper by Alan Garfinkel, an archaeologist and professor at Bakersfield. As I mentioned in my message to him expressing gratitude for the high quality papers and color photo illustrations he’d made available to us, this paper is much more than an education in obsidian dating artifacts from a specific site. Alan’s lengthy and extensive studies in the Mojave touch upon the history of those studies by dedicated laymen, and unsung professionals such as Emma Lou Davis who cultivated cordial relationships with various local people, who like many Atlas Obscura members, loved to get out there and find interesting things in the Mojave. Together they produced the first accurate survey of California’s geographic and cultural past east of the Sierra Nevada. I found her work inspirational in that it demonstrated the potential of all of us who get out there and explore obscure places for the sheer love of it, to make a significant contribution to science and our collective fund of knowledge. Alan’s current work follows in Emma Lou’s footsteps. He is very approachable and if any of you find yourself out around Bakersfield and have an interest in this subject and area, I’d encourage you to look him up and have a chat with him. Here’s the link to his paper. Follow the suggested papers in the sidebar to learn more about all the current research going on in sunny California and the Great Basin.