Nazca Peru, Drawing Lines in the Sand

A barren desert, frigid temperatures, and stinging winds are just a few features of the environment to be found in parts of Peru.  This relatively small country seated on the pacific coast of South America is divided into five provinces, the largest of which is Nazca, which is home to one of the great wonders of the world – the Nazca Lines.

The Nazca Lines are an ancient mystery linked to religious undertones and maybe even ancient aliens. Though standing on the ground at the plateau on which these intricate shapes lay, one can only scarcely see what all the fuss is about.  It is from the air that the real sights can be seen.

Made by overturning the red rocks and pebbles and exposing the white sand below, the Nazca Lines were constructed somewhere between 400 and 650 AD by the ancient Nazca peoples.  These geoglyphs, which number in the hundreds, depict many animals from in and around Peru, such as monkeys and birds and even human figures.  Others are simple geometric shapes and lines.

Experts can hardly agree on the purpose of the glyphs, let alone how the were made.  Some of the more obscure theories suggest that the Nazca people had mastered low altitude flight and that they used the lines as landing strip guidelines, while others suggest that the Nazca had other worldly help, but not all are convinced.  The prevailing theory proposes that the geoglyphs were constructed as a part of religious rituals, paying homage to the gods whom the Nazsca believed were responsible for water and rain.

Joe Nickell of the University of Kentucky replicated a geoglyph of his own, demonstrating that lines could have been constructed without flight or aerial assistance.  Using only simple ground based surveying techniques Nickell’s geoglyph was surprisingly consistent with the original Nazca Lines.

The Nazca Lines cover an area of nearly 500 square kilometres, with some of the geoglyphs measuring up to 270 meters across.  It is the dry and windless environment of the Nazca desert that keeps the lines preserved.  The Nazca desert is perhaps the driest location on earth, and this has helped to keep the geoglyphs undisturbed for nearly 1500 years.

In 1985, the archaeologist Johan Reinhard published archaeological, ethnographic, and historical data demonstrating that worship of mountains and other water sources predominated in Nazca religion and economy from ancient to recent times. He theorized that the lines and figures were part of religious practices involving the worship of deities associated with the availability of water, which directly related to the success and productivity of crops. He interpreted the lines as sacred paths leading to places where these deities could be worshiped. The figures were symbols representing animals and objects meant to invoke the gods’ aid in supplying water. But, the precise meanings of many of the individual geoglyphs remain unsolved as of 2011.

As mentioned above, others still believe the Nazca Lines are a part of a greater landscape of mystery. One Eric von Däniken believes that the lines could not have been constructed by the people of Peru, and maintains that the lines are runways for extraterrestrial craft.  Others yet believe that the lines demonstrate an astronomical knowledge that should not have been present during the period of the lines construction.

In any event, the area has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with the hope of preservation into the foreseeable future, though pollution and deforestation threaten to change the environment, to the detriment of conservation.  The lines themselves are delicate, most averaging only 10-30cm deep, which means that a single heavy rainfall could wipe the geoglyphs off the face of the Earth altogether.

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