Ancient civilizations continuously baffle scientists and civilians alike. Because we will never live in 100 A.D. or 300 B.C., all we can do is gaze upon remaining artifacts and attempt to piece together a narrative from the given elements. Sometimes this strategy of analysis proves highly effective. Other times it does not. There perhaps isn’t a greater mystery on earth than the presence of Peru’s Nazca lines.
The Nazca lines are ancient carvings in Peru’s Nazca desert, depicting geometric, vegetative, and animalistic forms. The Nazca lines are massive in scale; some designs have the capacity to house several airplanes. Though there are countless speculations surrounding the creation of the Nazca lines, there are perhaps more mysteries surrounding their function. Why were the Nazca lines built? Did they serve a practical or merely aesthetic purpose?
The world may never definitively understand, but we’ve compiled the most thought-provoking information for you in the article below.
20 20. The mysterious lines were first discovered in 1927.
Peruvian geologist Toribio Mejia Xesspe first discovered the Nazca lines in 1927. He was a member of the Peruvian aerial survey team, and so he was instantly able to view the true scope and artistry of the lines from his aerial vantage point.
At first, experts in Lima dismissed Toribio’s reports about the lines - they were assumed to be an ancient yet common irrigation system. In the 30s and 40s, however, as aerial traffic became more common, Lima could no longer ignore the ancient carvings.
19 19. The Lines are about 200 miles south of Lima, Peru.
The lines are located in a 310 square mile patch of desert, about 200 miles southeast of Lima, near a small town called Nazca. According to National Geographic, scientists believe that the lines were created by the Nazca people, who lived in the region between 1 and 700 A.D.
Archeologists characterize the Nazca as a people whose religious beliefs centered on agriculture and fertility. They worshipped many nature spirits, which may be the inspiration behind some of the line designs.
18 18. The Lines are both biomorphic and geometric in appearance.
According to National Geographic, there are over 800 straight lines, 300 geometric figures, and 70 animal or plant designs in the Nazca lines. Some of the lines stretch more than 30 miles in length, while some of the biomorphic designs are as large as 100 story skyscrapers.
Can you imagine creating something so large, with only the technology available between 1 and 700 A.D.? How on earth did the Nazca people make such perfect, balanced designs?
17 17. The Nazca lines fall into a category of art called “geoglyphs.”
The Nazca Lines are technically geoglyphs, meaning they are a durable design created upon the earth using natural materials. Geoglyphs remain from many of the world’s ancient civilizations, including the “Works of the Old Men” in Arabia and “The Uffington White Horse” in the U.K.
The Nazca Lines were created through the removal of earth. According to National Geographic, the desert in Peru has a top layer of rock that has been oxidized to a deep red-brown color. When approximately 15 inches of rock is removed, light sand is revealed. Therefore, the white color of the Nazca Lines is the result of the removal of oxidized rock.
16 16. We are able to see the Nazca Lines because of Peru’s climate.
The desert in Peru is dry, with very little erosion from water or wind. This natural stillness is the reason we can observe the Nazca Lines in all of their clarity today. This is enough to make one stop and think - imagine all of the vanished messages from our ancient ancestors.
There were certainly innumerable attempts to record history for future generations, but so many disappeared due to weather and time. Our historical knowledge is always limited to the evidence that remains...and when you think about it, it is surprising that any object or mark has endured over a thousand years, in light of all the natural and human disasters that can occur.
15 15. One Super-cool German scientist dedicated her life to Peru’s mystery.
Maria Reiche, also known as the “Lady of the Lines,” spent over 40 years in Lima and Nazca studying the ancient geoglyphs. According to the Independent, Reiche worked with New York academic Paul Kosok to study the Nazca lines. Together they concluded that the lines served as an ancient astrological calendar, and the animals were akin to astrology symbols.
These findings are dismissed in favor of other theories today, but Reiche’s presence in Peru still serves an integral part of the lines’ history. She swept the lines, created drawings, and camped near the site to ensure no one vandalized these relics from the past.
14 14. Today, scientists believe that the lines were used in ritualistic ceremonies.
The predominant theories surrounding the lines today point to a religious purpose. According to National Geographic, scientist Johan Reinhard believes that, due to the arid climate, the Nazca people used the lines as site of worship to plead for rain. Anthony Aveni, a National Geographic grantee, believes that the repetition of trapezoidal shapes within the Nazca line designs indicates gathering spaces where people could enter and exit to lay tribute and leave offerings to the gods. Yeesh, that seems like a hard life. Can you imagine living in a time where your access to food or cotton depended on rainfall?
13 13. The Lines are imaginative, perfectionistic, and beautiful.
The lines contain a wide variety of beautiful and identifiable imagery. There are hummingbirds, cranes, trees, insects, monkeys, and human-like figures. The above photo shows a rather ingenious depiction of a spider.
I don’t know about you, but I occasionally struggle to draw a straight line. Can you imagine creating the evenly spaced lines of the spider legs over the course of several thousand feet? Oh, and what about the Nazca affinity for symmetry? They not only had to draw a spider, but they drew a perfectly symmetrical spider.
If a graphic artist wants to make a symmetrical design today, she simply uses the mirroring tool in Adobe Illustrator. How on earth did the Nazca achieve perfect symmetry earlier than 1000 A.D.?
12 12. If you’re ever in Lima, you can see the lines for yourself.
Several companies operating in Lima, Peru, offer aerial tours of the Nazca lines. NazcaFlights.com offers 1, 2, and 3-day tour packages which each include bus transportation from Lima and flights from Piso airport. GreatNazcaTours.com offers tours beginning either in Nazca or Lima, and they provide the option for either ground or aerial tours.
It would be incredible to look out the window of an airplane and see these ancient, pale lines carved into the desert Earth. It’s definitely worth a place on anyone’s bucket list.
11 11. You can also wander the Nazca Desert to see the lines independently.
According to Always on the Way, you can take a local bus from Soyus to the Mirador viewing platform to see the Nazca lines from atop a large, metal staircase. From there, it is possible to wander the Nazca desert for a private experience with these surreal, historical lines.
You can experience the lines from the same perspectives of the Nazca people, all of those years ago. You can also experience the vastness of the desert, and it is easy to imagine the ritualistic prayers for rain, amidst the stretching miles of hot, dry sand.
10 10. Some believe that the Nazca Lines were meant to be seen by the gods.
According to Atlas Obscura, some believe that the large scale of the drawings indicates the desire for a large scale, celestial audience. As many religions believe gods reside in the clouds, it makes sense that the large, flat drawings would serve as a kind of attention-grabbing billboard for a heavenly audience.
Like, “Hey you! Up there in the clouds! I made this drawing for you, now give us some rain so we can all eat!”
9 9. The Nazca likely developed a sophisticated technology for carving the lines.
The Nazca likely achieved the lines’ geometric perfection through a system of ropes and wooden stakes. According to Atlas Obscura, the Nazca people probably developed the lines by driving stakes into the ground and tying ropes between them. Then, workers would clear away earth along either side of the ropes. Therefore, the lines could all achieve an identical width, length, and straightness.
In fact, some archaeologists have found wooden stakes near the sites of the Nazca lines to further support this theory.
8 8. The Human Drawing is a conspiracy theorist’s dream.
We have now arrived at the Nazca line arrangement that attracts the mostly speculation and controversy. This human - sometimes dubbed “The Astronaut” - is the least in keeping with the other Nazca line designs. It does not contain any elements of symmetry, with its misshapen feet and odd torso. And what’s with the oddly shaped head?
The Nazca were clearly capable of accurately depicting animal anatomy, so there must be a reason behind the odd, globe/dome we see atop this figure. Some have speculated that this is an ancient depiction of an astronaut. Others claim that this symbolizes Nazca interactions with aliens. Whatever the reason, this humanoid figure is certainly the strangest Nazca line creation.
7 7. It’s all a bunch of hot air.
Recently, a scientist named Jim Woodman conducted an experiment in which he proved that the Nazca could build hot air balloons with materials available at the time.
According to Atlas Obscura, Woodman believes that the Nazca built and used hot air balloons for observing the completed Nazca line drawings. Archaeologists agree that the Nazca were a technologically advanced civilization....but advanced enough for the construction and operation of hot air balloons? It’s a bit of a crazy idea, but science indicates that it’s a possibility.
6 6. People are destructive.
Earlier in 2018, a Peruvian truck driver ignored UNESCO Heritage Site signs surrounding the Nazca lines, and he violently plowed over several hundred feet of Nazca lines. Peru’s Ministry of Culture said that Jainer Jesus Flores Vigo, 40, was arrested for the errant drive on Jan. 27 in which three of the geoglyphs were damaged.
Vigo was later released due to insufficient evidence showing that his actions were anything more than a mistake. Authorities in Peru are reacting to the incident by increasing security around the ancient site.
5 5. The presence of a Monkey hints at ancient trade routes.
Among the Nazca lines’ depictions of animals, the monkey is one of the most memorable. This is partly due to the fact that monkeys are absent in the Nazca desert region.. .so how would the Nazca people even know about monkeys?
Archaeologists believe that this ancient monkey serves as an indication of Nazca trade routes. According to SAVacations, Monkeys are plentiful in Peru’s jungle regions in the northern and eastern parts of the country. Therefore, the Nazca likely participated in a vast system of trade networks.
4 4. The Lines provide artistic inspiration.
The Nazca lines have captured the imaginations of countless creative people since their discovery in the 1920s. Photographers travel to Peru to capture their own perspectives on the mysterious lines.
The simple, elegant geometry within the lines serves as inspiration to graphic artists and illustrators worldwide. The spiral tail in the Monkey geoglyph is the source of the “P” in Peru’s National logo. I doubt the Nazca people knew that their lines would thrive as a lasting source of inspiration for thousands of years!
3 3. The Hands formation is a curious sight.
The above geoglyph - commonly called “The Hands” - is another specific formation within the Nazca lines that has piqued the curiosity of many. If you look closely at the photo, you will notice that one hand has five fingers, while the second has only four. No one is sure about the significance behind this detail.
Additionally, the action of the hands is unclear. Are they outstretched as a symbol of worship and praise? Are the palms open in hopes of receiving blessings, such as food or rain? Are they reaching towards something? We will never know.
2 2. The Hummingbird is especially symbolic.
It is only fitting for the Nazca people to include a hummingbird in their assortment of Nazca line drawings. After all, Peru is home to approximately 125 recorded species of hummingbird. However, this drawing is thought to contain a deeper symbolism.
Peru.Travel claims that the above line formation served as a tribute to an ancient winged god, who was both respected and feared by the Nazca people. By depicting this god in all its splendor, the Nazca hoped they would be spared from drought, famine, and wrath.
1 1. No matter how much we try, we can never be certain of the purpose and formation of the Nazca Lines.
This is the truth whenever we scramble to assign meaning to centuries-old artifacts. In the 70s, Reiche claimed that the Nazca lines served as an astrological chart. Now, the lines are thought to serve a ritualistic purpose. Still, others claim that the lines are a source of extraterrestrial communication. No matter the current theory, it is sure to change depending on the dominant school of thought within any given time period. We can never truly understand the Nazca intentions, because we will never live contemporarily within their society. All we can do is appreciate the wonder and mystery that they have left behind.
References: National Geographic, Atlas Obscura, SAVacations, and Peru.Travel