The Mysterious Nazca Lines of Southern Peru: Huge Geoglyphs, Geometric Designs Stretch Across the Peruvian Desert

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The Hummingbird

What are the Nazca lines? Mysterious geometric lines and stylized figures cover miles of the desert and are best viewed from the air.

The Nazca lines of Peru tell an intriguing tale. But what tale is that?

Who created the Nazca lines? What purpose did huge geoglyphs, stretching miles out over the Nazca desert serve? Why did creators of the Nazca lines construct giant sketches that can only really be appreciated from a topographical vantage point?

The lines of Nazca are believed to have been hundreds of years in the making and would have involved many workers and much toil. But to what end?

In modern times, the birth of commercial airlines led to rediscovery of the Nazca lines. Passengers flying over the Peruvian desert noticed what looked like mammoth landing strips splayed out in the desert below.

The area where the Nazca art was found is called the Pampa Colorada or the red plain. This area runs parallel to the Andes and the Pacific Ocean.

Investigation has shown that the lines of Nazca were made by removing the darker, iron-oxide coated pebbles to expose the lighter dessert sub-layer. It is believed that simple tools and surveying equipment were used to create the Nazca geoglyphs. A wooden stake found at the site supports this theory.

Consensus among researchers is that the Nazca lines were constructed by the Nazca people and depict images similar to what has been found in other samples of Nazca art.

The Nazca symbols depict life in its many forms: aquatic animals, birds, reptiles, jungle inhabitants and flowers and plants. Additionally, humanoid shapes and human implements such as yarn and looms are also represented. Geometric symbols, such as trapezoids, spirals and concentric circles, triangles and parallel lines create a busy pattern on the desert floor.

Some of the largest Nazca geoglyphs are the pelican, 285m long; the Guano bird, 280m long; the lizard, 180m long; and the whale, 65m long.

Facts About the Nazca Lines

  • The lines of Nazca were constructed throughout the pre-Hispanic period and make up a distinctive and impressive archaeological group, comprising some 300 figures.
  • The Nazca drawings have well-defined entrances, where people may have gathered.
  • Certain areas appear to be roadways and show signs of wear.
  • Nazca art shows a correspondency to Nazca cultural changes.
  • Some of the figures are depicted with deformities.
  • The dry Nazca dessert climate and windless conditions preserved the ancient art.
  • The Nazca lines are considered the most outstanding group of geoglyphs found in the world.

Theories About the Nazca Lines

In the 1968 book, Chariots of the Gods, author Erich Von Daniken theorized that the lines formed a landing field and were built by ancient astronauts.

In 1977, Jim Woodman proposed that the Nazca lines were viewed from hot air balloons as part of ancient ceremonial flights.

The giant Nazca drawings most likely had a sacred purpose, as is evidenced in the sheer labor undertaken to create them.

Nazca Geoglyphs: Endangered in Modern Times

In modern times, natural forces have impacted on the Nazca lines. Climactic changes around the world pose a threat because heavy rainfall and flooding could impact the Nazca dessert art.

Treasure hunters seeking pre-Inca artifacts are defacing the ancient art. Mining with its associated truck traffic is also taking a toll. Pollution and erosion caused by deforestation are impacting the lines of Nazca.

Whatever the reason for the creation of the Nazca lines in the Peruvian desert, ancient and skilled people collaborated to leave an impressive record for posterity–one that, it is hoped, will remain for future generations.