By
OurAmazingPlanet
updated 3/30/2011 12:16:57 PM ET 2011-03-30T16:16:57

A massive stone archway, one of the largest natural bridges in the world, has been discovered in a remote corner of Afghanistan.

The dramatic arch spans more than 210 feet (64 meters), edging out Utah's Outlaw Arch in Dinosaur National Monument to become the 12th-largest arch on Earth.

The recently discovered Hazarchishma Natural Bridge is also nearly 10,000 feet (3,000 m) above sea level, making it one of the highest large natural bridges in the world.

Researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society stumbled across the geological colossus in late 2010 while conducting wildlife surveys along Afghanistan's Bamyan plateau, home to ibex and urial wild sheep.

"It's one of the most spectacular discoveries ever made in this region," said Joe Walston, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Asia Program. "The arch is emblematic of the natural marvels that still await discovery in Afghanistan."

Consisting of rock layers formed between the Jurassic Period (200 million to 145 million years ago) and the more recent Eocene Epoch (55 million to 34 million years ago), the Hazarchishma Natural Bridge, named for a nearby village, was carved over millennia by the once flowing waters of the now-dry Jawzari Canyon.

"Afghanistan has taken great strides in initiating programs to preserve the country's most beautiful wild places as well as conserve its natural resources," said Peter Zahler, deputy director for the WCS Asia Program. "This newfound marvel adds to the country's growing list of natural wonders and economic assets."

The world's largest natural arch — Fairy Bridge — is located by the Buliu River in Guangxi, China, and spans a staggering 400 feet (122 m).

Several of the top 20 largest natural arches are located in the United States in Utah.

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