The Nazca lines of Peru have fascinated archaeologists for centuries and now scientists say they have discovered 143 new drawings previously hidden in the soil.
Featuring hundreds of pictures of animals, plants and patterns, the miles of figurative drawings are only visible from nearby clifftops and the air.
Researchers from Yamagata University in Japan spent years searching through high-resolution images of the lines taken from space and studying them on site in Peru.
This led to the discovery of previously unknown figures depicting a range of living creatures including birds, monkeys, fish, reptiles and humanoid characters.
Researchers worked with IBM’s Artificial Intelligence team to discover a humanoid character within the soil (pictured)
Known as geoglyphs, they were created about 2,000 years ago, at the same time as the previously discovered lines and are between 16ft and 320ft across.
The research team from Japan, led by cultural anthropologist Masato Sakai, hoped to be able to uncover more detail of barely visible lines, as well as discover previously unseen figures.
They also set out to discover why the lines were created and believe some may have been used in ritual ceremonies.
Through painstaking image searches and on site surveys they found what they were looking for – over 140 new drawings.
Known as geoglyphs, they were created about 2,000 years ago, at the same time as the previously discovered lines and are between 16ft and 320ft across. They depict a range of characters including snakes
Geoglyphs span large land tracts located between the towns of Palpa and Nazca in Peru
The team believe that the Nazca people made the lines by removing the rocky black topsoil and revealing light-coloured sand underneath.
Dr Sakai and his team found two different types of geoglyphs as part of their study of the soil – one much older than the other.
The first type are at least 160ft across and are from later in the Nazca civilisation – between 100AD and 300AD.
The second type are smaller, dating back to between 100BC and 100AD.
The team believe the older type of geoglyphs were discovered on slopes and paths which suggest they were designed as landmarks to help guide people.
The newer type were ‘littered with pottery shards’ and could have been used as sites of ritual ceremonies involving breaking things, says Dr Sakai.
Dr Sakai and his team found two different types of geoglyphs as part of their study of the soil dating from about 100BC to 300AD and included creatures and patterns (pictured)
Some of the newly discovered works are just a few feet across, which made discovering the faint lines a difficult task, Dr Sakai said.
With that in mind the team worked with IBM and used the Watson Machine Learning Accelerator to sift through a huge volume of drone and satellite imagery to see if it could see anything humans hadn’t spotted.
Watson was able to discover a very faint ancient drawing of a humanoid character standing on two feet.
As the drawing was found near a path, researchers believe it may have been a ‘waypost marker’.
Some of the lines were so faint within the soil they have had to highlight the creature that had been drawn to make it easier to see. The original imprint in the sand is on the left and the highlighted version is on the right
The Japanese team believe that the Nazca people made the lines by removing the rocky black topsoil and revealing light-coloured sand underneath. Some lines were so faint they were barely detectable as creature
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.
Often, the composition of a geoglyph cannot be fully realised at ground level. Only when one is high enough in the air can they discern the shapes of some of the designs.
For this reason the intricacies of the designs were not fully realised until aeroplanes were invented and the artwork was seen from the sky.
The Japanese team plan to continue working to discover more of the secrets of the Nazca lines, including working with IBM to find more geoglyphs.
Details of the ongoing work has been published on the Yamagata University website.
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.