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.
“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.
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 walls.
“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.