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Researchers discover 168 mysterious carvings in Peru’s ancient Nazca plain

A general view shows mapping of the Nazca Lines images found on Peru’s southern Pacific coast, as part of research led by Peruvian and Japanese researchers from Yamagata University. (Yamagata University/Reuters)
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Researchers have identified more than 150 new designs in Peru’s southern Nazca plain, known for its mysterious large-scale artwork carved into the desert.

The latest images were discovered by archaeologists from Japan and Peru, who used high-resolution aerial and drone photos taken between June 2019 and February 2020 to identify 168 new geoglyphs of animals and humans, including birds, killer whales and snakes, carved by the region’s pre-Hispanic inhabitants.

The Nazca Lines, which are part of a UNESCO World Heritage site, cover an area of almost 175 square miles on Peru’s Pacific coast.

The lines “were scratched on the surface of the ground between 500 B.C. and A.D. 500,” UNESCO says, adding that the designs at the site are “among archaeology’s greatest enigmas” and “the most outstanding group of geoglyphs anywhere in the world.”

Their purpose is still unknown, but UNESCO says they may have served “ritual astronomical functions.”

The latest geoglyphs to be discovered are believed to date back to between 100 B.C. and A.D. 300, researchers from Japan’s Yamagata University said in a statement announcing the find earlier this month.

While most of the site’s most famous images are so large that they can only be seen from the air, the most recent images are mostly small, measuring less than 10 meters (around 33 feet) in diameter. Previous work, also carried out by Japan’s Yamagata University, found 190 geoglyphs between 2004 and 2018.

The findings will be used in shaping future surveys carried out by artificial intelligence to protect the area, according to the university.

The site faces threats from urban and economic developments, Masato Sakai, the lead researcher and a professor from Japan’s Yamagata University, told Reuters news agency.

“Some geoglyphs are in danger of being destroyed due to the recent expansion of mining-related workshops in the archaeological park,” he said.

The Nazca Lines have also been impacted by smaller-scale incidents: In 2018, a truck driver damaged part of the site after he ignored warning signs and drove over the area.

In 2014, activists from the environmental group Greenpeace sparked outrage when they left marks at the site while carrying out a protest — although researchers later said that a grant given to help them repair the damage had led to the discovery of 50 new geoglyphs.