Photographer Iulia Galushina is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this documentary photography.  From her project ‘Message from the Aral‘.  To follow Iulia click on any image.


Scientist from Kazakhstan Boris Afanasyevich Smerdov is 77 years old.  He spent half of his life deeply worried about the Aral Sea. On retirement, the scientist has been descrambling the secret signs he discovered at the bottom of the Aral Sea.


Before the Aral expedition, Boris Afanasievich bought very detailed maps published in 1987 and 1964. The scale of the first map is 1: 500,000 in one centimeter 5 kilometers, of the second one, 1: 1,000,000, in one centimeter 10 kilometers. The scientist applied the location of Aral signs and channels from the Small Sea to Great Sea. He still cherishes these maps.


Aluminum sample boxes for soil samples. Inside – soil samples from the Aral signs. The sample boxes are numbered, sealed with adhesive tape. Information about the samples is written in the scientist’s notebook.
In 1996, our guide Margulan Zheksembiev found two furrows on the eastern dried sea coast – two Aral Traces, – says Boris Afanasyevich. – Margulan is a resident of aul Karateren, an observer of a hydrological post on the Syr Darya River, one of the best connoisseurs of his land, a guide to several foreign expeditions in the Aral Sea region, a longtime friend of mine and a participant in the work in the lower reaches of the Syr Darya. He was in the know about the Aral signs and was very interested in their search and study. I made a cross-section of a furrow and brought samples of soil and algae to Almaty. For 20 years the land from the Aral Sea was stored in a refrigerator, tightly packed in sample bottles. I never opened them. So I do not know in what condition they are, especially the algae. I do not open them, I’m afraid to break something important. I did not send them to the laboratory, because I did not have enough money.


The Aral Sea runs along the border between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and was one of the largest lakes on the planet.  In 1961 its water level began falling, catastrophically fast. In the Uzbek port of Muynak, for one of the nights the water level lowered by two hundred meters. In the morning the people ran after the sea and cried. A fishing boat, which had landed on the beach for the night, was not able to set sail in the morning.


Photo from the Boris’ archive.
Arrangement and numbering of Aral signs. Each visible furrow is indicated by a number. The picture is made up of 4 frames of aerial photography. Bright spots on the water surface are flecks of sunlight.
From 1960s in the Syr Darya and Amu Darya river basins (these rivers are feeding the Aral Sea) powerful irrigation systems for cotton and rice were created. It drained the sea dry. Water from the Syr Darya and the Amu Darya was taken to irrigate wet crops. The irrigation ditches were of poor quality, a lot of water was lost without use, it drained to the ground, recalls the scientist. “We had to calculate all the losses, draw up maps – we needed aerial photography.”
“I filed an application and, to be safe, set the survey boundaries for the lower reaches of the Syr Darya River with some extra area towards the sea, adding ten kilometers of the coastal sea zone. Aviators making plain turns also added extra kilometers. These “extra” kilometers appeared earthshattering for me.”
“The results of aerial photography shocked me. At the bottom of the Aral there were strange signs. Five hundred square kilometers near the south-east shore Kokaral peninsula, which separates the Great and Small Seas, were covered by furrows, parallel lines resembling comb strokes. Initially I thought it was a film defect. However, when I compared different shots, I confirmed that all details were identical. I discovered complicated forms which made of furrows.”
The width of the lines is from two to fifty meters, while the length, from several meters to several kilometers. The figures are so huge, clear and regular as if drawn by some kind of mechanism. I superimposed several aerial photographs and found: the details were repeated with a shift. The pictures have tessellated like a mosaic. Judging by the relief, the lines are “scratched” not so long ago – dozens, possibly hundreds of years ago. I called them the “Aral Signs”.
Boris Smerdov figured out 15 symbols visible from beginning to end. He made thousands of scrupulous mathematical calculations, developed dozens of formulas. Calculations have shown a mathematical logic between the lines and symbols. The scientist discovered absolutely the same elements, which decrease in size in the direction from south to north. This indicates that all the lines are not incidental. Each furrow is calculated in advance, and then accurately reproduced at the bottom of the sea. If you measure natural dunes or barkhans in a desert, they will always have different mathematical parameters – in nature, there are many factors acting simultaneously on them. Boris Smerdov is sure that the Aral signs are not created by nature.


Photo from the Boris’ archive.
Two “Rockets” under the water. The length of each is 600 m.


Photo from the Boris’ archive.
“Car entry and a snake”, aerial photo 1990.
“This shot I called Car entry and a snake. It is the most exciting for me. Width of wheel track of so called car which entered by the steep slope is 250 meters, while wheel width is 50 meters. From the left top corner of the picture a snake is going down and her head almost touches the wheel track. Using 100-200 times magnification scales of the snake are clearly seen. The scales look like cells and require further investigation.
No earth technique is able to draw such huge and smooth furrows on the seabed. I calculated that the drawing of these Aral signs will require a continuous operation of 90,000 twenty-ton vehicles for 25 years.


Photo from the Boris Smerdov’s archive.
The Aral sea shore. The Aral Sea emerged about 10,000 years ago, when the Amu Darya River, which until then had run into the Caspian Sea, turned north and began filling with water a tectonic depression – a large southern part of the future Aral Sea. Before, only the Syr Darya flowed into this depression, feeding a relatively small pond. According to some scientists, the Amu Darya turned several times toward the Caspian Sea, according to others, the river turned away from the Aral only once. And at that time, the Aral Sea began shallowing. In 2001, on the dry bottom of the Aral, the inhabitants of the village of Karateren, and their archaeologists, discovered an ancient settlement and a large mausoleum. Then people joked that the Kazakhs had found the Aral Atlantis. The artifacts confirmed that there existed a town on the bottom of the Aral Sea: its townsfolk built houses, erected mausoleums, and engaged in agriculture. The sea was a dry land at that time, but the water came back. About 150 years ago, “water lavishly flooded the land” more than ever. The Aral made the top four lakes on the planet. Our fathers and grandfathers remembered the Aral as blue and full of fish.


Slides of the 1910-2010’s, showing the level of seasonal and perennial fluctuations of the Aral Sea. In 1963, Boris Smerdov graduated from Tomsk State University, specializing in Land Hydrology. He was doing postgraduate studies in Hydrology at Krasnodar Agricultural Institute. In 1980 he joined Kazakh Research Hydrometeorological Institute in Alma-Ata. The young scientist monitored the Aral Sea level in different parts of it. He compiled graphs, studying the sea regime using them, and investigating its trends. “ I saw the Aral Sea level steadily falling since 1961. But there was no any serious concern about it. I thought it was one of the temporary fluctuations. The sea water level was changing regularly. Furthermore, the Aral sea level had shallowed before, moreover, it was a dry land. “


Today the seabed has turned into a desert. On its bare bottom Boris Smerdov discovered mysterious signs. The scientist is sure – this is the message of extraterrestrial civilization to the inhabitants of the Earth.


Helicopter MI 8. In 1989 году five employees of the Kazakh Scientific and Research Hydrometeorological Institute, flew to the Aral Sea for sand samples.


“I’ve been studying the secret symbols of the Aral Sea for a quarter of a century. My feeling of admiration is not passing off. For me, the Aral signs do not lose their attractiveness, beauty, complexity and mystery. Strange as it may sound, but I hold a cordial affection for them as for the creatures, very close and rich in their essence.”


Valeria Nikolaevna Smerdova, Boris Smerdov wife, meteorologist.
“I consulted and shared my findings with geologists, geophysicists, geographers, astronomers, ufologists, mathematicians, designers, including in the field of underwater military technology – with anyone who could show interest in the Aral signs. All scientists shrugged shoulders and took me for an eccentric. I had to continue the study alone, relying only on wife’s and children’s support.


The cupboard beneath the bed of Boris’ one-room apartment is full of hundreds of folders, drawings, letters, diagrams, photographs, and pictures. In the refrigerator, under carrots and potatoes there are samples of soils from the mysterious furrows of the Aral Sea. Boris Smerdov is sure that these furrows are of nonearthy origin. “What an amazing fact! My wealth! I have been sitting with this wealth for more than 25 years, not knowing what to do with it. Making analysis of the samples is too expensive for me”.


Boris Smerdov is looking into binocular which shows azimuth.
The scientist from Almaty was offered to write a book about the Aral signs. The French Data Bank of Abnormal Phenomena got interested in the strange lines on the Aral bottom. The French offered to send their employee to conduct joint research, and Boris Smerdov was required to cover the cost of his stay in Kazakhstan and travel to the Aral Sea. An ordinary scientist could not afford it because of high costs.
“Traces of the Aral Sea do not let me go. The Aral furrows were drawn under a 15-m water column at a time when the sea was deep. Who covered the seabed with lines and why? I have more questions than answers. “


Boris Smerdov unpacks a film from year 1990 expedition.
Aral is everywhere in one-room apartment of the scientist. Folders with drawings and formulas, letters, maps, tens of films – all what have collected for 25 years of communication with Aral. Scientist carefully store every sheet of paper, every record.


In 1987, the Aral Sea was divided into the Great and Small Seas – the Southern and Northern Aral, forming a narrow channel between them.

In an effort to save the water, at least in the Small Sea, in 1992, on the isthmus between the North and South Aral, a dam was built. It was built by local forces and at their own cost and expense from reels of cane, stones, sand and clay using technologies of the Stone Age. The sand dam was washed away.   Three times a dam between the Small and Great Seas was erected by “rule of thumb”, and three times was washed away.

In 1999 a mighty stream washed the dam between the Great and Small Seas away ones again. Water washed away not only the dam but also the lower part of the Aral signs. During the Kokaral dam construction in the Small Sea heavy trucks erased the remaining part of the signs. The secret signs have gone before they had a chance of being widely interested in and studied. Information about the Aral signs is recorded on the aerial photos which Boris Smerdov stores carefully.


A stone sample from the southern part of the Kokaral Peninsula
Boris Smerdov have been studying Aral for a quarter of century. He visited it’s shores many times. The scientist returns from the sea laden with stones – he got a full backpack. Smerdov was especially impressed by this stone with innumerable inclusions of shells.


The scheme of Boris Smerdov’s life. The scientist drew 30 variants of the schemes of his life, each time remembering and adding new events.
“Before meeting the Aral signs, I was an atheist, and when I was looking into the secret of the Aral Sea, I became a fatalist”, the scientist admits. “I’m sure everything in life is not incidental”. Only by a lucky chance the Aral signs were covered by aerial survey. By chance, when choosing a profession, I entered hydrology faculty, although all my life I am in awe of radio engineering and optics.”
“All events in life are naturally determined. To make sure of this, I made a scheme of my life. Using different colors and forms I marked transitional moments, studies, research work, intentions, deadly dangerous moments … This is the moment when my father took away my grenade; that, when the lightning struck me; and these are Krasnoyarsk poles where I was about to fall … I drew more than 30 variants of my life schemes, every time remembering and adding new events. I included less than 100 elements in the first scheme, in the last one, more than 400. The scheme of my life is similar to the scheme of a complex electronic device with several functional blocks. And at its output there are events related to the discovery and decoding of the Aral signs.”


By Iulia Galushina