One of the world's greatest mysteries is without a doubt the Nazca lines of Peru. These massive ancient ground-based art, or geoglyphs, has puzzled archaeologists for centuries. To make Peruvian archaeology more mysterious, a new set of unexplained geoglyphs has been discovered just outside the small town of Quilcapampa in the Sihuas Valley. 

Peru's Nazca lines are believed to have had religious significance, and were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.

According to a study of the glyphs recently published in the Journal of Archaeology Science, the discovery of the mysterious symbols was the first to be aided by unmanned drones and satellite imagery:

Aided by previous surface survey, the satellite imagery effectively located areas of high concentration of geoglyphs that could then be flown over by the UAV whose high resolution camera allows for the capture of features and details not readily identifiable via satellite. The documentation of Sihuas' geoglyphs aids both academic and conservation efforts in this region of Peru.

The rings are thought to have been constructed by removing stones from the rockbed, revealing the light-colored sand beneath. The ring-shaped glyphs have been dated to between 1050 CE and 1400 CE, which would put their construction at a time when the now-sleepy hamlet of Quilcapampa was a bustling trade center for the Inca empire.

An image of the new geoglyphs taken by an unmanned aerial vehicle.

From the data collected so far, the ringed geoglyphs vary in size from just a few meters across to several hundred meters in diameter. The glyphs vary from simple one-ring structures to complex, fractal-like designs:

One geoglyph they mapped has at least six rings designed in an irregular pattern, with smaller circles embedded inside larger circles so that the overall design looks a little like a swirl. Also, some of the geoglyphs contain rock piles called cairns located beside or within them, the archaeologists said.

Rock art has also been found in the cliffs outside the city, which also heavily feature circular or ringed designs. Archaeologists are currently at a loss to explain the symbolic significance of circles in the Quilcapampa culture, as they had no writing system with which to leave us any clues.

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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