An AI found a hidden Nazca Line in Peru showing a humanoid figure

Using AI to speed up finding the ancient glyphs could give insight into their purpose

Nazca Line

Using artificial intelligence that scours satellite and drone images for traces of ancient geoglyphs etched into terrain, scientists have uncovered a new Nazca Line of a humanoid figure in Peru (photo left, sketch right).

IBM Research

Artificial intelligence is putting on its Indiana Jones hat.

An AI trained to recognize Nazca Lines, ancient designs in the desert plains of Peru, has discovered a new geoglyph etched into the earth: a faint humanoid figure a few meters across.

The figure joins a collection of more than 2,000 previously known Nazca Lines, depicting animals, plants, fantastical beings and geometric patterns. These glyphs can be difficult to spot, though, as they often are obscured by other markings on the landscape, such as roads. Commissioning AI to scour large sets of aerial photos, maps and other data on the Peruvian landscape could help uncover more glyphs that archaeologists have overlooked. 

Researchers at IBM and Yamagata University in Japan taught an AI to recognize Nazca Lines by showing it drone and satellite images of known glyphs. The AI identified over 500 possible new geoglyphs, including the humanoid figure, while searching a five-kilometer stretch of terrain. Aerial images and in-person visits to the site confirmed the presence of the humanoid figure, which is near a well-known hummingbird-like Nazca design (SN: 6/26/19).

The newly uncovered glyph is the latest discovered by the Yamagata University research team, which has identified over 100 other Nazca Lines through aerial images and fieldwork, the team reported November 15 in a news release.

Next, the researchers plan to run a more powerful AI system that will leverage aerial images, as well as other information like laser mapping data, to identify Nazca Lines more quickly and accurately (SN: 9/27/18). Creating a more comprehensive map of the Nazca Lines may offer new insight into why people created these markings thousands of years ago, and how to best preserve them (SN: 12/7/12).  

Previously the staff writer for physical sciences at Science News, Maria Temming is the assistant managing editor at Science News Explores. She has bachelor's degrees in physics and English, and a master's in science writing.

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