A real tragedy has occurred, an outrage. A portion of Peru’s Nazca Lines have been destroyed, and all in the name of greed. As reported March 14, 2013, by El Comercio – A Spanish language daily news service – the lines were destroyed by the heavy equipment of a Peruvian mining company called Gálvez, as they excavated the area looking for base construction materials for their recently upgraded quarry.
The Nazca lines, constructed between 400 and 650 AD, are a particularly fragile archaeological artefact, most being only 10-30 centimetres deep. The arid and windless environment is responsible for their survival for the last 1500 years, but all that is threatened by a man whose arrogance and ignorance of his own culture are rivalled only by his lust for the almighty dollar. The owner of the limestone aggregates company claims that the land the lines are on is his private property, and that he can do whatever he wants to his own property.
Eduardo Herrán Gómez de la Torre, director of research at Ojos de Condor, described the extensive damage in the area. (Eyes of the Condor SAC, a Peruvian aerial photography organization working to foster tourism and preservation of Peru’s archaeological sites):
“We have witnessed the irreparable destruction to a set of lines and trapezoids that existed in the area…
The limestone firm responsible has not been sanctioned or supervised by the authorities of the Regional Directorate of Culture of Ica, despite being in this great archaeological reserve.
The company argues that the land where the plant is installed is private property and that the owner can do whatever he wants on his land, but this is not so,”
The site of the Nazca lines, which covers some 500 square kilometres in the Pampas de Jumana in southern Peru, between Nazca and Lima, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994 (UNESCO Ref 700). This status as a historical monument protected by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) puts it under the purview of the Geneva Convention, which states:
“Article 53. PROTECTION OF CULTURAL OBJECTS AND OF PLACES OF WORSHIP. Without prejudice to the provisions of the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict of 14 May 1954,’ and of other relevant international instruments, it is prohibited:
(a) To commit any acts of hostility directed against the historic monuments, works of art or places of worship which constitute the cultural or spiritual heritage of peoples;
(b) To use such objects in support of the military effort;
(c) To make such objects the object of reprisals.”
However, the provincial director of Culture of Nasca, Mario Olaechea Aquije, said the land is privately owned and that the owner can work freely, and authorities cannot interfere. Sotil Raul Galindo, Regional Director of Culture of Ica, declined to give statements, reported El Comercio. He said the responsibility lies with Olaechea, and he doesn’t question Olaechea’s decision.
The extent of the damage, which took place near mile marker 444 of the Panamericana Sur Highway, is unclear, but Herrán describes it as irreparable. There is no word on whether UNESCO will seek legal action against the firm, or even if the actions of the mining company fall under the requirements of the Geneva Convention, so it’s anybody’s guess what will happen.
Fortunately, the most iconic shapes and images of the Nazca Lines collection were unharmed and are in no immediate danger, but this incident highlights the need for more aggressive legal protections for sites of such archaeological and historic importance. NASA and the US Government have taken steps to protect the Apollo moon landings sites, which are deemed necessary due to the advent of commercial space flight, but we can’t even protect historical sites on our own planet.
Since this story is now gaining global momentum, public opinion and pressure may in fact cause the government of Peru and its cultural protection organizations to act. We can only hope that someone steps in to at least ensure that no more damage is done beyond what has already taken place.