The Nazca Lines are a collection of immense, ancient, line drawings in the sand of what’s known today as the Nazca Desert, in southern Peru. The shapes they form are properly visible only from the sky.
Archaeological scholars attribute the creation of the lines to the Nazca people, at somewhere between 400 and 650 AD. The drawings include depictions of spiders, monkeys, hummingbirds, dogs and, in one case, a strangely humanoid figure that many refer to as “the astronaut”.
The Astronaut – photo by Ilker Ender (CC BY 2.0)
The lines were created through the removal of about 10 centimeters of dirt from the surface of the ground. This removed the reddish pebbles that cover the desert to reveal the paler coloured ground beneath. In what may have been a stroke of luck, digging into the ground exposed earth that’s rich in lime. When mixed with the desert’s early morning mist, this earth hardened to form a protective layer, helping keep the lines intact. Also thanks to the dryness of the desert and the year-round lack of wind in the area, the lines have been almost perfectly preserved for about 1,500 years.
The Condor – photo by Paul Williams (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Although scholars previously believed that the images depicted by the lines were visible only from space – and as such could not have been built by the Nazca people – new evidence shows that the geoglyphs are in fact visible from surrounding hills and mountains. A scholar from the University of Kentucky set out to prove that the lines, although incredibly impressive given the time at which they were drawn, could be easily created by a small team, using only tools that would have been available to the Nazca people. Wooden stakes found at the meeting points of lines support this theory.
The Dog – photo by Scubaben (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Even if it’s no longer so mysterious how the lines were created, their exact purpose is still widely disputed. Some scholars of ancient Nazca culture claim that the lines are ritualistic symbols, while others have theorized that they’re markers that represent celestial bodies or that point to the positions on the horizon at which certain celestial bodies rise.
The Spider – photo by Colm Linehan (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Some alternative explanations for the Nazca Lines favour the paranormal. Erich von Daniken, famous for his book Chariots of the Gods?, suggested that the lines are in fact runways on an ancient airfield used by extraterrestrials, which the natives mistook to be their gods. Unsurprisingly, his theories haven’t been widely accepted by scholars.
The Monkey – photo by Paul Williams (CC BY-SA 2.0)
About the Author
This travel post was provided by Jeff, a writer for the tour operator www.thomascooktours.com
who provide tours to Peru
which incorporate visits to the Nazca Lines.