A team of Japanese archaeologists has identified 143 new geoglyphs in the Nazca Desert, southern Peru.
The geoglyphs of Nazca are a series of drawings located in the desert plains of the Rio Grande de Nazca river basin about 250 miles (400 km) south of Lima, Peru.
They depict living creatures, stylized plants and imaginary beings, as well as geometric figures several miles long, and were created by the ancient Nazca culture between 500 BCE and 500 CE.
The monuments became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994, and are among archaeology’s greatest enigmas because of their quantity, nature, size and continuity.
The new glyphs were discovered by Professor Masato Sakai of Yamagata University and colleagues from Japan.
“We analyzed high-resolution images of the entire Nasza Pampa, obtained through aerial laser measurements among other methods, and conducted fieldwork in the area,” the researchers said.
“Through these efforts, we constructed a hypothesis that a type of biomorphic geoglyph was chiefly produced along some small paths situated in the western region of the Pampa.”
“As a result of on-site studies carried on until 2018, we identified 142 figures.”
The geoglyphs depict people and animals, including birds, monkeys, fish, snakes, foxes, felines, and camelids.
“All of these figures were created by removing the black stones that cover the land, thereby exposing the white sand beneath,” the scientists explained.
“They are categorized into two main types, depending on whether the geoglyphs were made by removing stones to form lines (type A) or to form solid-colored surfaces (type B).”
“Type A geoglyphs are generally large in scale, and all of the figures that span more than 165 feet (50 m) across belong to this type, while most type B geoglyphs are less than 165 feet (50 m).”
“Out of the newly-identified geoglyphs, the longest stretched over 330 feet (100 m) across and was categorized under type A, while the smallest was under 16 feet (5 m) and belonged to type B.”
“Type A geoglyphs date relatively later and were likely created in the Early Nazca period (100 CE to 300 CE).
“On the other hand, the type B geoglyphs were produced at least during the Initial Nazca period (100 BCE to 100 CE), if not earlier.”
“Fieldwork identified type A figures to be ritual places shaped like animals, where people held ceremonies involving the destruction of pottery vessels. Meanwhile, type B figures were produced beside paths or on sloping inclines and are thought to have been used as wayposts when traveling,” they said.
The team also used the IBM Watson Machine Learning Community Edition (formerly known as IBM PowerAI) to analyze images of the Nasza Pampa and find candidates for new biomorphic geoglyphs.
“We selected a promising candidate from the results and conducted fieldwork at the area in 2019,” the archaeologists said.
“This led to the discovery of one new figure in the west of the Nazca Pampa.”
“This figure is relatively small, spanning about 16 feet (5 m) across, and depicts a humanoid figure standing on two feet.”
“It was likely created during the Initial Nazca period, as it is a type B geoglyph produced by removing stones to form a solid-colored shape.”
“This newly discovered figure was also situated near a path, indicating that it was likely used as a kind of waypost.”