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AI Identifies New Geoglyphs Among Nazca Lines in Peru


The Nazca Lines in Peru are among the most mysterious geoglyphs in all of archaeology. These glyphs of humanoids, geometric shapes, and animals have baffled experts for almost a century. Now Japanese researchers believe that they may have found up to 143 new images near the UNESCO World Heritage Site. One was discovered using new artificial intelligence and it is believed that this technology could now reveal a flood of more glyphs.

A team from Yamagata University in Japan led by Professor Masato Sakai, a specialist in Andean archaeology, has been investigating the Nazca Lines, since 2004. They suspected that there were new geoglyphs still to be discovered. This was “based on an on-site investigation begun in 2010 as well as aerial pictures” reports Asahi.com.

Mysterious Images in the Desert

The Nazca Lines are on a plateau on the pampa and are some 250 miles (80 kilometers) south of Lima the capital of Peru. A press release from IBM Research describes the manmade phenomena as “shapes of varying complexity – from simple geometric shapes and plants to zoomorphic designs of animals — some several hundreds of meters in length, etched into the terrain”.

The lines date from anywhere between 500 BC to 500 AD and they were created by pre-Incan people. They were possibly used as solar calendars or more likely for ceremonial purposes and many can be considered to be ritual art.

Asahi.com reports that “until now, it was thought that 80 or so geoglyphs exist”. However, the team from Yamagata University used drones and 3D data to identify up to 143 new geoglyphs. According to a press release by Yamagata University , ‘these geoglyphs depicted people and many different animals (including birds, monkeys, fish, snakes, foxes, felines, and camelids). One of the new images “shows a two-headed snake that appears to be devouring two people”.

Two-headed snake geoglyph, approximately 98 feet (30 meters) long. ( Yamagata University )

Ritual Art and Signposts

The geoglyphs are of two types, depending on how they were made. The first category comes from the Early Nazca Period and consists of images made by removing black topsoil to reveal white sand. The second type which were created somewhat later were made by placing earth and stones on the surface. It seems that some of the first type were used for ceremonial purposes and the second type were “produced beside paths or on sloping inclines and are thought to have been used as way posts when traveling” according to Yamagata University .

However, the Japanese team was faced with a number of challenges. They could not manage all the data that they retrieved. So the team and their faculty entered into an academic partnership with IBM Japan Ltd to exploit the tech company’s “extensive initiatives to analyze and leverage large, complex data sets, such as remote sensing and geographical data, with AI” reports Yamagata University .

  • Ancient rock lines created by enigmatic Paracas culture predate Nazca geoglyphs
  • Pre-Incan Culture Didn’t Rule by Pillage, Plunder and Conquest
  • Some Giant Geoglyphs in Jordan are Older than the World Famous Nazca Lines

Strange humanoid image found in the Nazca Pampa. ( Yamagata University )

Artificial Intelligence

Yamagata archaeologists collaborated closely with IBM researchers, after a feasibility study that demonstrated the company’s Watson Machine Learning Community Edition, could help in identifying glyphs. They utilized IBM PAIRS Geoscope , when they surveyed the Nazca Pampa, recently. This is a cloud-based Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology that can analyze data from multiple datasets and is especially useful when it comes to geospatial evaluations.

The team used LiDAR, that uses lasers to make a 3D representation of the lines in the desert. They also used images from satellites and drones. Data from on-the-ground geographical surveys were all collected. All this diverse data was inputted into PAIRS and its AI was able to integrate and evaluate the data in a matter of minutes where previously such an analysis would have taken months.

Geoglyph identified using IBM Watson Machine Learning Community Edition. ( Yamagata University )

Enigmatic Human-like Figure

The researchers found a 15 foot (5 meter) long geoglyph of a humanoid figure . This figure appears to be “brandishing some form of club” reports Fox News . Furthermore, “AI analysis of aerial footage indicated there are more than 500 other candidate sites” reports Ashai.com. One of these was subsequently proven to be a site of ritual art.

These finds are important in in themselves but also demonstrated how AI could be used to speed up the process of identifying new Nazca Lines. The new technology will be used along with fieldwork to further study the images that have been found. This will result in a map of the new geoglyphs and will help in the development of a comprehensive map for the entire location.

Not only can they help to locate new Nazca Lines, but IBMs technology can also help to preserve the UNESCO World Heritage site. “Professor Sakai and others have carried out activities to preserve this heritage site” in recent years reports Yamagata University . The mysterious glyphs are being threatened by the growth of nearby urban areas. It is hoped that AI technology can also play a part in determining the distribution of the lines so that they can be better protected.


Archaeologists found 143 more images among the Nazca Lines

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Archaeologists have rediscovered 143 more enormous drawings called geoglyphs etched on the rocky ground of Peru's Nazca Desert, with one of the finds coming courtesy of a machine-learning algorithm. The new images emphasize how much ancient art lies on the 450 square kilometer (280 square mile) Nazca Desert and how much of it archaeologists still need to find and document. Masato Sakai, an archaeologist from Yamagata University in Japan, and his colleagues say mapping the Nazca Lines could yield clues about their purpose.


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Bandy, M., “Tiwinaku Origins and Early Development: The Political and Moral Economy of a Hospitality State” in Vranich, A and Stanish, C. (eds), Visions of Tiwinaku (Los Angeles, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, 2103) at 135-150 (https://www.academia.edu/24665779/Tiwanaku_Origins_and_Early_Development_The_Political_and_Moral_Economy_of_a_Hospitality_State)

Eda, M et al, “Identifying the bird figures of the Nasca pampas: An ornithological perspective” (2019) 26 Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 101875 (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jasrep.2019.101875)

Edgar, R., The Nazca Lines and “The Eye In Sky”: How Total Solar Eclipses Inspired the Nazca Lines & Geoglyphs (2000) (https://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/nazca/esp_lineas_nazca_16.htm)

Garces, E., The Inka Astronomy Handbook (First English edition March 2018) ISBN: 978-612-00-3214-5

Kelly, L., The Memory Code (Allen & Unwin, 2016)

Nicholls, C., Art, History, Place (Working Title Press, Kingswood SA, 2003)

Proulx, D., The Nasca Culture: An Introduction (1999, 2007) (https://people.umass.edu/

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New Nazca Lines Found in Peru – Ancient Architects

Etched into the high desert of southern Peru more than a millennium ago, the enigmatic Nasca Lines continue to capture our imagination. But recently, using drone cameras, scientists have discovered new spectacular line drawings in Southern Peru – and they are much older than the famous lines of the Nasca province.

Until this recent discovery, we knew of more than a thousand of these line drawings, also known as geoglyphs or ground drawings, that sprawl across the sandy soil of the Nasca province – a little-understood practice that some believe was to encourage rainfall, whilst others think they may represent star constellations, although all the ideas remain speculative.

Now, Peruvian archaeologists have discovered more than 50 new examples of these mysterious desert monuments in the adjacent Palpa Province, traced onto the earth’s surface in lines almost too fine to see with the human eye. With the help of drones, archaeologists have mapped them in never-before-seen detail. Watch this video to find out more.

All images are taken from Google Image Search for educational purposes only.


Art by a Mysterious Culture

Based on the design of the cat geoglyph, experts believe that that it dates to 200-300 BC. This was the period when the mysterious Palpa or Paracas culture began to create the designs in the desert. This society probably began the tradition of making the images and lines.

Based on the design of the cat geoglyph, experts believe that that it was made by the Palpa culture. (Prensa Libre )

The Nazca emerged from this culture and continued the tradition of making geoglyphs. The Peruvian Ministry of Culture website states that “Representations of felines of this type are common in the iconography of ceramics and textiles of the Palpa society.” The discovery of the giant cat geoglyph can help experts to better understand the earlier culture’s contribution to the Nazca Lines, which were only rediscovered in the early 20th century.

The mysterious Peruvian geoglyphs cover an area of 75,358.47 hectares and there are thousands of lines and images cut into the dry and sandy soil. They include depictions of animals, weird creatures , and human-like figures. There are also many geometric designs.

According to Andina, the glyphs have turned ‘the vast land into a highly symbolic, ritual and social-cultural landscape that remains until today.’ They are probably the most diverse and numerous glyphs to be found anywhere in the world and for this reason the area was awarded the status of a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994.


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He added: 'It might seem surprising that new designs are still being found, but we know there are more out there.

'In the last few years the use of drones, which enable us to take images of the sides of hills, makes that possible.'

Peru's Culture Ministry said in a statement: 'The design was hardly visible when it was first identified and was on the verge of disappearing because it was on a hill with a steep slope and was subject to the effects of natural erosion.

'Over the past week cleaning and conservation work has taken place which has led to the emergence of the figure of a feline with its body side-on and its head facing forwards.

Nazca lines were not completely understood until invention of airplanes because they cannot be fully realized from any point on land and drones have helped understand them further

'The lines of the geoglyph are around 12 to 15 inches wide in some parts. The figure is 121 feet long.'

Officials dated the design to around 200BC.

Mr Isla said the cat dated back to the late Paracas era, which ran from 500BC to AD200.

He added: 'We know that from comparing iconographies. Paracas textiles, for example, show birds, cats and people that are easily comparable to these geoglyphs.'

Last November it emerged over 140 Nazca lines dating back around 2,100 years had been uncovered in the Peruvian desert.

The announcement was made by archaeologists at Japan's Yamagata University following a 15-year research effort using satellite imagery, drone footage and AI scanning systems.

They included a bird, humanoids, a two-headed snake and even a 'killer whale'.

The Nazca Lines, a UNESCO World Heritage site, were first 'discovered' by archaeologists academically in 1927.

Many are so big they can generally only be identified properly from the air.

It is believed they were created between 500BC and 500AD. They typically measure anywhere from 0.2 miles to 0.7 miles across. Many depict humans, animals and plants.

Experts believe the lines, thought to have been made by the removal of rocky black topsoil to reveal light-coloured sand underneath, were used in ritual ceremonies and may have served as messages to the gods.

In February 2018 a lorry driver was arrested after ploughing through the ancient lines and leaving 'irreparable tyre scars'.

He claimed at the time his vehicle had suffered a mechanical problem and he pulled over to change a tyre.

WHAT ARE PERU'S MYSTERIOUS 'NAZCA LINES'?

Geoglyphs span large land tracts located between the towns of Palpa and Nazca. Some geoglyphs depict animals, objects or compact shapes others are only simplistic lines.

The Nazca people lived in the area from 200 to 700 CE. Some of the designs are believed to be created instead by the Topará and Paracas people.

Most of the lines are formed by a shallow trench with a depth of between four inches (10cm) and six inches (15cm), made by removing the reddish-brown iron oxide-coated pebbles that cover the surface of the Nazca desert and exposing the light-colored earth beneath.

This sublayer contains high amounts of lime which has hardened to form a protective layer that shields the lines from winds and prevents erosion.

An aerial view of a spiral-tailed monkey figure in Peru's mysterious Nazca Lines, located some 240 miles south of Lima. No one knows why the Pre-Inca Nazca culture made the figures and lines, some of them miles long

Paul Kosok, from Long Island University, is credited as the first scholar to seriously study the Nazca Lines.

He discovered that the lines converged at the winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere.

Along with Maria Reiche, a German mathematician and archaeologist, Kosok proposed the figures were markers on the horizon to show where the sun and other celestial bodies rose.