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Wednesday, 20 November 2019

More than 140 new Nazca geoglyphs have been discovered


In 1927, archaeologists discovered for the first time from the air stylized representations of humans, animals and objects of various sizes (between a few tens of meters and several kilometers) drawn in the soil of the Nazca desert in southern Peru. Called the Nazca Geoglyphs, the purpose in which they were traced by the Nazca civilization is still unknown. Recently, a team of archaeologists discovered 143 new geoglyphs, including one thanks to artificial intelligence . This discovery could help to better understand the functions of these representations.

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Scientists have discovered more than 140 new geoglyphs, known as Nazca Geoglyphs (or Nazca Lines): an ancient and mysterious group of giant characters engraved in the desert of southern Peru. These massive and sprawling representations of human beings, animals and objects can be as old as 2500 years old and so impressive that many of them can only be identified from the air.

Archaeologists at the Japanese University of Yamagata report that a long-term study conducted since 2004 has uncovered 143 previously unknown Nazca geoglyphs, including a figure who escaped human detection and discovered by artificial intelligence.

Humanoid geoglyph (about 10 meters long). Credits: Yamagata University

Geoglyphs with still unexplained objectives

The newly identified geoglyphs would have been created between at least 100 BCE and 300 EC. Although the purpose of these great motifs inspired by the ancient culture of Nazca remains controversial, the way they were made is known to archaeologists. " All these figures were created by removing the black stones that cover the earth, exposing the white sand underneath, " says the research team.

Geoglyph representing a bird (about 100 meters long). Credits: Yamagata University

Previous assumptions have suggested that the Nazca people have shaped the giant geoglyphs - some of which are hundreds of meters long - to be seen by deities in the sky or to serve astronomical purposes.

In the new research, led by anthropologist and archaeologist Masato Sakai, the team analyzed the high-resolution satellite imagery of the Nazca region, also conducted fieldwork and identified two main types of geoglyphs.

Two types of geoglyphs with potentially distinct functions

The oldest geoglyphs (100 AECs), called type B, are generally less than 50 meters, while the slightly more recent ones (100 and 300 EC), called type A, extend over 50 meters, with the largest geoglyph discovered by the team measuring more than 100 meters.

Researchers believe that type A geoglyphs, larger, often shaped like animals, were ritual places where people organized ceremonies involving the destruction of various pottery vases.

Geoglyph representing a two-headed serpent (about 30 meters long). Credits: Yamagata University

On the other hand, the smaller Type B patterns were located along trails and could have served as a relay to guide travelers - possibly to a larger Type A ritual space where people would gather. Some of these Type B designs are really tiny, the smallest of new discoveries measuring less than 5 meters, making it difficult to find this type of line.

The help of artificial intelligence in the discovery of geoglyphs

To this end, as part of a recent experimental collaboration that began in 2018 with IBM researchers, the team used a company-developed Deep Learning artificial intelligence that runs on a geospatial analysis system. called IBM PAIRS geoscope.

Humanoid geoglyph discovered by IBM's artificial intelligence (about 4 meters long). Credits: Yamagata University

The Learning Network - IBM Watson Machine Learning Accelerator (WMLA) - has screened huge volumes of images of drones and satellites to see if it can spot hidden marks related to the Nazca lines.

The system found a match: the faded outline of a small humanoid type B, resting on two feet. Although the symbolic meaning of this strange and ancient character is not yet clear, the researchers point out that the geoglyph was located near a path, which makes it perhaps one of the supposed beacons.

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