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30 October 2010
Discovery in Peru: ancient geoglyphs or just agricolture?

A huge network of geoglyphs, representing birds, snakes and other animals, is visible in satellite imagery of a large area around Titicaca Lake (Peru), a researcher claims. Amelia Carolina Sparavigna, assistant professor at the department of physics of Turin's Polytechnic University, used Google satellite maps and AstroFracTool, an astronomical image-processing program which she developed, to investigate over 463 square miles of land around Peru's Titicaca Lake. She says she has identified shapes that were built by Andean communities centuries ago.
     According to the researcher, enhanced satellite imagery revealed that some of the land forms are not only the remains of an extensive ancient agricultural system, but also those of formations designed to represent birds, snakes and other animals. "They seem to be geoglyphs," Sparavigna said. Geometric lines and images of animals that are best viewed from the air, geoglyphs are well-known in South America. Among the more famous geoglyphs are the Nasca Lines on the south coast of Peru and ring ditch sites in the Bolivian Amazon and Acre, Brazil.
     "Past Andean and Amazonian societies imposed order, structure and aesthetics on nature through intentional design, engineering, and activities of everyday life," anthropologist Clark Erickson of the University of Pennsylvania said. "They created a complex environment of fields, paths, roads, canals, shrines, ceremonial centers, and settlements. One expression of this landscape transformation was the creation of geoglyphs or patterns made in earthworks," Erickson said.
     "These earthworks provide evidence for the impressive engineering abilities of the people who lived there in pre-Columbian times," Sparavigna said. Built by excavating parallel canals and piling the Earth to form long and low mounds, the raised fields were about 4 to 10 meters (13 to 32.8 feet) wide, 10 to 100 meters (32.8 to 328 feet) long, and 1 meter (3.2 feet) high. Sparavigna believes that these elaborate earthworks were planned following the natural slope of the terrain while incorporating symbolic meaning. According to the researcher, several images seem to depict birds, with ponds representing their eyes, while others appear to depict snakes, tortoises, fish, armadillos but also "abstract drawings," with patterns of stripes and other objects less easy to identify.
     However, Erickson questioned Sparavigna's interpretation of the earthworks. "The identifications of particular symbols such as birds, snakes, etc. are not convincing. For example, what appears to be 'a bird wing' in one image, is a modern plowed field with stacks of drying barley or wheat," he said. According to Sparavigna, Ericskon's observation indicates that superimposed modern cultivations pose a threat to the geoglyphs. Fortunately, the area might be soon declared a cultural heritage site in order to preserve the ancient structures.

Edited from Discovery News (14 October 2010)

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