Scientists used artificial intelligence to discover a 2,000 year-old stick figure in Peru’s mysterious Nazca Lines

AI was used to discover an ancient work of art.

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AI was used to discover an ancient work of art.
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YouTube/IBM Research

  • The Nazca Lines are mysterious ancient images carved into the sands of Peru’s Nazca Desert, some of which are over 2,000 years old.
  • Although archaeologists have been studying them for over a hundred years, new images are still being discovered which have been obscured over the millennia.
  • Researchers from Yamagata University recently discovered a further 142 formations, one of which was discovered using an IBM Watson, which uses artificial intelligence.
  • The success of the project could help archaeologists find countless more ancient artworks lost to history.
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Artificial intelligence has helped archaeologists uncover an ancient lost work of art.

The Nazca Lines in Peru are ancient geoglyphs, images carved into the landscape. First formally studied in 1926, they depict people, animals, plants, and geometric shapes. The formations vary in size, with some of the biggest running up to 30 miles long. Their exact purpose is unknown, although some archaeologists think they may have had religious or spiritual significance. Local guides believe the lines relate to sources of water.

Some Nazca lines span miles of Peruvian countryside.

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Some Nazca lines span miles of Peruvian countryside.
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Flickr/Christian Haugen

New geoglyphs are still being discovered and can be hard to spot due to changes in the landscape, with natural erosion and urbanization breaking them up.

A research team from Yamagata University recently announced it had discovered 142 new Nazca formations, including images of birds, monkeys, fish, snakes, and foxes.

The team partnered with IBM to try and train its deep-learning platform Watson to look for hard-to-find geoglyphs.

They fed the AI with aerial images to see if it could spot any more Nazca outlines. Watson threw up a few candidates, from which the researchers picked the most promising. Sure enough, their field work confirmed the AI had found an ancient Nazca artwork.

The find was a relatively small depiction of a humanoid figure spanning just 16 feet. The researchers estimate the figure dates from roughly 100 BC to AD 100, making it at roughly 2,000 years old.

The project’s success has prompted Yamagata University to announce a more prolonged partnership with IBM, and will create a full location map of the geoglyphs to help future archaeologists.