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Archaeologists uncover ritual landscape connected to ancient Andean cults



Archaeologists conducting a study in the Carangas region of highland Bolivia have discovered a ritual landscape connected with the Andean cults of wak’a (sacred mountains, tutelary hills, and mummified ancestors).

In a study published in the journal Antiquity, the researchers identified 135 hilltop sites, which are associated with agricultural production areas by a variable number of concentric walls on terraces.

At each location, the team found large quantities of pre-Hispanic ceramic fragments from local styles typical of the Late Intermediate and Late Periods (AD 1250–1600), along with some regional styles linked to the southern expansion of the Incas.

Most of the ceramic fragments are bowls, plates and small jars, indicating their use in commensal and ritual practices. The evidence suggests that the sites were used as ceremonial spaces known as wak’a, a practice which emerged during Late Intermediate Period.

This corresponds with accounts by Spanish clerics and chroniclers of the Colonial Period from around AD 1535–1800, such as that of the chronicler, Guaman Poma de Ayala.

At Waskiri, near the Lauca River and the Bolivian-Chilean border, the study discovered a large circular construction measuring 140m in diameter.

The site has a perimeter ring comprising of 39 adjoining enclosures, each with a surface area between 106 and 144m2. These enclose a plaza of approximately 1ha, which is scattered with abundant ceramic fragments ascribed to the Late Intermediate and Late Periods.

Archaeologists theorise that the perimeter walls may reflect the Incan ceque system, suggesting that the Incas replicated the symbolic structure of Cuzco in the regions they colonised.

The site is visually and spatially associated with the principal sacred mountains, multiple walled circular constructions, and burial towers adorned with patterns imitating Incan fabrics.

It is possible, that this structure was first referenced in the chronicles of the priest, Bartolomé Álvarez, who travelled through the Carangas region during the 1580s.

Álvarez heard of the existence of a “large circular building”, in which the Indigenous leaders of the region (curacas and caciques), met to perform ceremonies for the Sun during the month of June—the Inti Raymi.

According to the paper authors: “This ceremonial centre and the ritual landscape in which Waskiri is situated provides rich material for further study of the pre-Hispanic history of this part of the Andes—an area that has been generally understudied. Further research will allow investigators to test these initial hypotheses and interpretations.”


Header Image Credit : Antiquity

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Nazca geoglyphs discovered used AI deep learning




Archaeologists from the Yamagata University have used AI deep learning to discover new geoglyphs in the northern part of the Nazca Pampa in the arid Peruvian coastal plain.

Geoglyphs in the Nazca Pampa were first identified during the 1920’s, with ongoing studies since the 1940’s revealing various figurative geoglyphs of zoomorphic designs, geometric shapes, and linear lines.

Geoglyphs can be categorised into three main types: figurative, geometric, and lineal. Archaeologists suggest that the lineal geoglyphs were created by the Nazca, a culture that developed during the Early Intermediate Period and is generally divided into the Proto Nazca (phase 1, 100 BC to AD 1), the Early Nazca (phases 2–4, AD 1 to 450), Middle Nazca (phase 5, AD 450 to 550) and the Late Nazca (phases 6–7, AD 550 to 750).

The relief type dates from the Late Formative period (400 to 200 BC), as the iconography of the geoglyphs are similar to that of Formative petroglyphs found on outcrops of rock. During this period, the region was inhabited by the Paracas Culture, an Andean people that emerged around 800 BC until 100 BC.

Since 2004, Yamagata University has been conducting geoglyph distribution surveys using satellite imagery, aerial photography, airborne scanning LiDAR, and drone photography to investigate the vast area of the Nazca Pampa covering more than 390 km2.

In 2016, the researchers used aerial photography with a ground resolution of 0.1 m per pixel to create a detailed survey of the region. Overtime, the team have identified various geoglyphs, however, the process is very time consuming, so they have adopted AI deep learning to analyse the photographs at a much faster rate.

The results of a study, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, has revealed the discovery of four new Nazca geoglyphs using this new method by creating an approach to labelling training data that identifies a similar partial pattern between the known and new geoglyphs.

The four new geoglyphs depict a humanoid figure, a pair-of-legs, a fish, and a bird. The humanoid geoglyph is shown holding a club in his/her right hand and measures 5 metres in length. The fish geoglyph, shown with a wide-open mouth measures 19 metres, while the bird geoglyph measures 17 metres and the pair-of-legs 78 metres.

According to the study authors: “We have developed a DL pipeline that addresses the challenges that commonly arise in the task of archaeological image object detection. Our approach allows DL to learn representations of images with better generalisation and performance, enabling the discovery of targets that have been difficult to find in the past. Moreover, by accelerating the research process, our method contributes to archaeology by establishing a new paradigm that combines field surveys and AI, leading to more efficient and effective investigations.”

Yamagata University

Header Image Credit : Yamagata University

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Archaeologists study fortress in southern Georgia to understand community resilience




A team of archaeologists led by Cranfield University is conducting a detailed study of the fortress of Dmanisis Gora in the Kvemo Kartli region of Georgia.

The study is part of a project to understand why communities in the region were more resilient than other parts of the world during the transition from the Bronze to the Iron Age around 1200 BC.

Dmanisis Gora is located at the north-eastern edge of the highland zone between two such gorges. The site consists of a compact defensive core that has two defensive walls with an enclosed area of 3.7 acres.

On the plateau behind the citadel area, a third wall, extending about 1000 m from edge to edge on the plateau, encloses a much larger area of about 138.3 acres that contains numerous circular and linear stone features.

During the so-called ‘12th Century BC crisis’ and its aftermath, the majority of Middle Eastern regions underwent a period of significant turmoil characterised by the disintegration of empires, famine, crop failures, armed conflicts, and mass migration.

In contrast, the Caucasus region (consisting of present-day Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan) appears to have been shielded from this tumultuous period, exhibiting only gradual transformations in material culture and patterns of settlement.

Either the region managed to entirely avoid the widespread disruption, or it did not experience the same cultural, economic, and political repercussions as other areas. This suggests that the communities in the region might have been more resilient, enabling them to withstand and adapt to the challenges in a comparatively effective manner.

Dr Erb-Satullo, from Cranfield University, said: “The key to understanding why the Bronze Age-Iron Age transition is different in the Caucasus is to study the fortress communities that dot the landscape during this period. We’re looking for clues about life in the Late Bronze Age through examining areas such as ceramics, burial rituals, farming practices, tools and social structures.”

“Given the upheaval at that time in other nearby regions, we are intrigued to find out more about one of these sites and determine what underlies their apparent resilience,” added Dr Erb-Satullo.

The project expands upon earlier pilot excavations carried out at the site prior to the pandemic, along with a thorough survey conducted in Autumn 2022 using drone-based photogrammetry. This is done by using the latest forensic technologies including isotopic analysis of animal remains, metallurgy, magnetometry and deploying drones to scan the area.

“What’s really exciting about this site is its size, preservation, and the fact that it has layers dating precisely to the years around the 12th Century BC crisis,” continued Dr Erb-Satullo. “Many fortresses are on hills which are prone to erosion. But this one has relatively flat topography, so the sediment will have built up in layers over time, helping to preserve artefacts and archaeological clues from the Late Bronze age.”

Cranfield University

Header Image Credit : BING Maps

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