by Rossella Lorenzi
October 6, 2008
A new remote sensing technology has peeled away mud and earth layers
near the Cahuachi desert in Peru
to reveal an ancient
adobe pyramid, Italian researchers announced on Friday at a
satellite imagery conference in Rome.
In this satellite
image, the white arrows show the buried pyramid and the black arrows
other structures which have yet to be investigated.
A new remote sensing technology has peeled away layers of mud and
rock near Peru's Cahuachi desert to reveal an ancient adobe
pyramid, Italian researchers announced on Friday at a satellite
imagery conference in Rome.
Nicola Masini and Rosa Lasaponara of Italy's
National Research Council (CNR) discovered the pyramid by
analyzing images from the
satellite Quickbird, which they used to
penetrate the Peruvian soil.
The researchers investigated a test area along the river Nazca.
Covered by plants and grass, it was about a mile away from
Cahuachi's archaeological site, which contains the remains of what
is believed to be the world's biggest mud city.
Via Quickbird, Masini and colleagues collected
high-resolution infrared and multispectral images. After the
researchers optimized the data with special algorithms, the result
was a detailed visualization of a pyramid extending over a
97,000-square-foot (9,000-square-meter) area.
The discovery doesn't come as a surprise to archaeologists, since
some 40 mounds at Cahuachi are believed to contain the remains of
"We know that many buildings are
still buried under Cahuachi's sands, but until now, it was
almost impossible to exactly locate them and detect their shape
from an aerial view," Masini told Discovery News. "The biggest
problem was the very low contrast between adobe, which is
sun-dried earth, and the background subsoil."
Cahuachi is the best-known site of the
Nazca civilization, which flourished in Peru between the first
century B.C. and the fifth century A.D. and slid into oblivion by
the time the Inca Empire rose to dominate the Andes.
Famous for carving in the Peruvian desert
hundreds of geometric
lines and images of animals and birds that are best viewed from the
air, the Nazca people built Cahuachi as a ceremonial center, molding
pyramids, temples and plazas from the desert itself.
There, priests led ceremonies including human sacrifices, drawing
people from across the region.
Between the year 300 and 350, two natural disasters — a powerful
flood and a devastating earthquake — hit Cahuachi. The site lost its
sacred power to the Nazca, who then abandoned the area.
A 3D model of
But before leaving, they sealed all monuments and buried them under
the desert sand.
"Up to now, we have completely
unearthed and restored a huge asymmetrical pyramid, known as the
Grand Pyramid. A terraced temple and a smaller pyramid are in an
advanced state of excavation," Giuseppe Orefici, an
archaeologist who has spent decades excavating Cahuachi and has
also worked with the CNR researchers, wrote in the conference
Featuring a 300-by-328-foot base, the
newly discovered pyramid consists of at least,
"four degrading terraces which
suggest a truncated pyramid similar to the Grand Pyramid."
With seven levels, this imposing
monument was sculpted from the landscape and enhanced by large adobe
"This is an interesting finding. As
with the Grand Pyramid, it is likely that also this pyramid
contains the remains of human sacrifices," Andrea Drusini, an
anthropologist at Padova University, told Discovery News.
In previous excavations at Cahuachi,
Drusini found some 20 severed "offering heads" at various locations
inside the Grand Pyramid.
"They have circular holes cut into
the forehead and were perfectly prepared from an anatomical
point of view," Drusini said.
The researchers are now investigating
other buried structures next to the newly discovered pyramid.
"This innovative technology opens up
new perspectives for the detection of buried adobe monuments in
Cahuachi and elsewhere," said Masini. "Once we have more
information about the size and shape of the structures, we might
turn to virtual archaeology to bring the pyramid and its nearby
structures back to life."
An earlier version of this report
included incorrect measurements of the newly discovered pyramid.