Around 2000 years ago, an ancient people called the Nazca built hundreds of enormous geoglyphs across southern Peru’s dry desert sands. No one quite knows why they created the mysterious shapes, although some scholars speculate that the geometric figures, plant and animal designs, and simple lines may have played a part in the culture’s astronomical religious rituals.
To this day, experts continue to discover “new” geoglyphs in the Nazca Desert, an arid plateau that stretches between the modern-day towns of Nazca and Palpa. Recently, a research team from Yamagata University in Japan announced their own historic find, Smithsonian reports: a previously unknown 98-foot-long figure, believed to be a mythical animal sticking out its tongue.
The stone creature was found at Pampa de Majuelos, an archaeological site in the Nazca Desert, according to the New Historian. Since it’s unusually shaped, with a head on its left side and legs and body on its right, experts don’t think it depicts a real beast.
Prehistoric workers made the geoglyph by removing dark-colored stones from the ground to expose the white-colored ground beneath, researchers explain on Yamagata University’s website. They then piled up the stones to create the animal depiction.
The animal is located near two other geoglyphs, which the Yamagata University team found in 2011. According to New Historian, the anthropomorphic figures illustrate a decapitation scene.
Yamagata University—which opened a research center in Nazca in 2012—has been studying the region for years. In 2015, their scholars located 24 other “new” geoglyphs on the Nazca Plateau, including a llama-like figure and other, unrecognizable shapes, The Japan Times reports. It’s thought that these geoglyphs were built sometime between 400 and 200 BCE. This may make them older than two of the site’s most famous lines, a hummingbird and a monkey, which were likely built between 400 BCE and 600 CE.
Archaeologists began studying the Nazca Lines in the 1920s, National Geographic writes. However, experts didn’t note how truly vast the ancient structures were until pilots began flying commercial planes over the geoglyphs in the 1930s. Since then, experts have sought to understand the shapes’ significance—and to preserve their remains.
In 1994, the Nazca Lines were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. However, Masato Sakai, leader of Yamagata University’s Nazca research team, tells The Japan Times that the geoglyphs are threatened today by the expansion of urban areas.
"We want to preserve them by sharing their importance with local people,” says Masato Sakai, whose team reports all geoglyph discoveries to the Peruvian government.