IBM Watson Dons An Indiana Jones Hat

December 13, 2019

Our knowledge on ancient civilizations is based on archeological evidence. Historians and scientists can only infer how ancient people lived, but often times the civilizations are shrouded more in mystery than answers. National Geographic España shares one mystery from Peru, “Descubiertos nuevos geoglifos en Nazca gracias a la Inteligencia Artificial.” If you do not speak Spanish, the article title translates as “New Geoglyphs Discovered in Nazca Thanks To Artificial Intelligence.”

One of Peru’s greatest treasures are the gigantic geoglyphs on the Nazca pampas. The geoglyphs are huge images of animals and humans drawn by the Nazcan people between 1 BC and eighth century AD. The geoglyphs are huge creations made from white sand set against large expanses of black rock. They were first discovered in 1927, then became UNESCO World Heritage sites in 1994.

There are many theories about why the Nazcan people drew the geoglyphs on the pampas encompassing an area of 75,000 hectares. Three hundred geoglyphs have been recorded, but Masato Sakai of Yamagata University, who specializes Andean culture and archaeology, used artificial intelligence to discover one hundred forty-three new geoglyphs. All of the new geoglyphs range between five to one hundred meters in size and are estimated to made between 100 BC and 300 AD. They are shared like animals and humans, similar to past discovered geoglyphs. Artificial intelligence built on an IBM Watson computer to find the geoglyphs:

“The new geoglyphs have been identified thanks to field work combined with artificial intelligence and high-resolution 3D data analysis, an investigation carried out between 2018 and 2019. In addition, the Japanese team discovered one of them when developing an artificial intelligence (AI) model on the IBM Power System AC922 artificial intelligence server, configured with the IBM Watson Machine Learning Community Edition deep learning platform. The study explored the feasibility of AI to discover new lines by introducing into the system the ability to process large volumes of data including high-resolution aerial photos at high speeds.


Without AI these Nazcan geoglyphs might never have been discovered. New, more robust technology allows archeologists like Sakai to find, research, and preserve these wonders and learn more about an ancient society. The question still remains why the Nazcan people created such huge drawings only visible from the air. Watson will never be able to solve that mystery.

Whitney Grace, December 13, 2019


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