A “humanoid” with two faces and a dual-headed snake appearing to devour a human are among 143 newly discovered Nazca Lines in Peru, one of which represents the only geoglyph to have been found solely through the use of artificial intelligence.
Nazca Pampa, Peru’s famous home of the ancient geoglyphs, spans an area of about 20 by 15 kilometers (12 by 9 miles). Only 30 geoglyphs had been identified when this region was first designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. By 2015, aerial surveys and subsequent fieldwork led to the discovery of more than 40 geoglyphs – now researchers at Yamagata University and IBM Japan have added exponentially to our understanding of these mysterious terrestrial markings.
Scientists analyzed high-resolution images of Nazca Pampa obtained through aerial laser measurements and saw faint indentations in the ground that they believed were the locations of more lines. Onsite fieldwork in 2018 identified 142 new figures of “people, animals, and other objects,” including birds, monkeys, fish, snakes, foxes, and felines. But determining the extent of other geoglyphs by the human eye alone would have taken a “vast amount of time” due to the amount of data. That’s where AI comes in: to process large volumes of data at high speeds.
The first geoglyph to be found by AI measures just 5 meters across (16 feet) and depicts a “humanoid standing on two feet”. Because it was found near a path, scientists believe it may have been used as a waypost or method to assist travelers.
Some 2,000 years ago, ancient humans created the figures by removing black stones that cover the land to expose the white sand beneath. These many figures range in size from more than 50 meters (165 feet) to under 5 meters (16 feet) and were probably used for ritual purposes to hold ceremonies. Smaller geoglyphs, such as the AI-discovered humanoid, may have been used as wayposts to help travelers find their way.
Researchers at Yamagata University have been studying the lines for 15 years and say there is still much work to be done in order to understand their distribution and how to protect them against expanding urban areas. In 2018, a truck driver drove across the lines, leaving “deep scars” on the surface of three geoglyphs.
“In addition, the expansion of urban areas in Nazca has brought damage to the lines, resulting in a trend that has drawn attention as a social issue. There is an urgent need to gain an accurate understanding of the geoglyphs' distribution so that work can be done to protect them,” wrote the researchers in their report.
In a statement released by the university, the scientists say they hope to produce a location map based on the results of their fieldwork that will “promote understanding of all the Nazca Lines as a whole, and accelerate research and awareness towards activities to protect this World Heritage Site."