AI Helped Researchers Discover A New Geoglyph
Thu, January 27, 2022

AI Helped Researchers Discover A New Geoglyph

The drawing was the first geoglyph to be discovered by AI / Photo Credit: Sviluppo (via Shutterstock)


For the first time, Japanese scientists used machine learning to identify a new figure in the Nazca Lines in Peru, reported James Vincent of The Verge, an American technology news and media network. The geoglyph is said to date back to between 100 BC and 500 AD. The said illustration was created by removing the dark stones in the Nazca Desert, revealing the white sand underneath. The geoglyph is about five meters long, depicting a humanoid figure holding a cane or club. 

Like the other geoglyphs in the Nazca Desert, the illustration’s purpose is unknown. The newly-discovered geoglyph might have been used as a waypoint since it was discovered next to an ancient path. Professor Makato Sakai, the leader of a team from Yamagata University that conducted the research told The Verge via email, “It is in an area that we often investigated, but we did not know the geoglyph existed.”

The geoglyph was uncovered during a larger research project by Yamagata University. For 10 years, archaeologists from the university leveraged both on-site surveying and aerial imagery. They were able to manually identify 142 geoglyphs through the given methodologies. The archaeologists then collaborated with researchers from IBM Japan. Together, the group used machine learning to scan the data for designs missed in previous studies, revealing geoglyph number 143, making it the first geoglyph to be discovered by AI.

Director of the Andean Institute of Archaeological Studies and an expert in the Nazca Lines Johny Isla informed The Verge that the new geoglyphs were a “great discovery.” However, he stressed that the drawings were the “product of many years’ work.” Leveraging AI in this study was more of a test rather than a project. Fortunately, IBM and Yamagata have signed a joint agreement to continue their research. They plan to gather “10 years’ worth of aerial imagery and data” to produce a more comprehensive picture of the Nazca Lines. 

IBM Japan’s researcher Akihisa Sakurai, who helped discover the humanoid geoglyph, believed that the said process “will give a better worldview of the people who made these geoglyphs and for what purpose.”