The mysterious, monolithic drawings etched into Peru’s Nazca desert have long been the subject of fascination for scientists, historians and theologians the world over, and now, it seems, their reach extends much further than we thought. 

Rat and human figures found in Nazca desert
Rat and Humanoid drawing discovered in Peru's Nazca desert. Image by: Masato Sakai

In 2018, a research team from Japan’s Yamagata University used a combination of fieldwork and high-resolution 3D data to uncover 143 new drawings and patterns, or ‘geoglyphs’, distributed mainly throughout the west of the Naza Pampa. In 2019 the team joined forces with IBM Japan, and through using AI technology and IBM power systems, have now uncovered another new geoglyph, this time resembling a humanoid figure, which they excitedly announced in a press release last week.  

Representation of a monkey, Nazca desert.jpg
Monkey figure: scientists discovered 143 previously undiscovered drawings in Peru's Nazca desert. Image by: Masato Sakai

Known globally as the Nazca Lines, this UNESCO World Heritage site comprises an ancient collection of drawings, rendered in the desert floor by removing the black topsoil to reveal lighter coloured sand. The drawings range in what they depict, from concentric, circular patterns to animals including a monkey, spider and hummingbird, and even human figures. The newly discovered geoglyphs also feature depictions of humans, birds, monkeys, fish, reptiles and other more abstract patterns.

Bird figure in the Nazca desert.jpg
Depiction of a bird. Image by: Masato Sakai

The larger geoglyphs, which the team have labelled ‘Type A’, cover areas of up to 50m and probably date back to 100 - 300 CE in Nazca civilisation. This group, most commonly depicting different animals, were shown to be sprinkled with pottery shards, leading the team to believe that they were used in ceremonies and rituals. The ‘Type B’ geoglyphs are smaller and more abstract, generally believed to be even older (around 100 BCE - 100 CE). The team, led by Professor Masato Sakai, a cultural anthropologist at Yamagato University, think these renderings were likely to have been used as landmarks to guide people across the desert.  

Following on from the success of their discoveries, Yamagata University and IBM Research have entered into an academic agreement with regards the Nazca Lines. The AI technology should now be able to aid the team in uncovering more information about the distribution of the lines, and to further developments in their future protection.

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