The Nazca Lines are an exceptional collection of geoglyphs in the southern desert of Peru. There are about 300 figures among them including geometric shapes, animal like figures, straight continuous lines, humans and plants. The exceptionality of these geoglyphs rest in the fact that they can only be seen from the air. The creation of the Nasca Lines is attributed to the pre-Inca Nazca culture that flourished in the area between 200 and 600 AD. In 1994 the lines were designated and protected as a World Heritage Site by Unesco.
The Nazca Lines are located on the Pampas of Jumana in the Nazca Desert in the department of Ica in southern Peru, about 400 km from the capital Lima. The Pampas of Jumala is an isolated 80 kilometer arid plateau characterized by a very stable climate. Its dry and windless climate and little change in weather patterns have contributed to the preservation of the Nazca Lines.
The Nazca designs and Lines
The 300 figures, lines and shapes are located in an area of nearly 500 sq kilometers or 190 sq miles. Among the zoomorphic figures are the famous Nazca condor, hummingbird, pelican, shark, bird, fish, spider, lizard, parrot, flamingo, iguana, dog, llamas, jaguar, fox, whale and monkey. They are the most astonishing drawings and are less in number than the geometric designs. The largest one is the figure of a bird measuring about 300 meters or 990 feet followed by the lizard at 180 m or 595 f, the pelican, condor and monkey measure about the same 135 m or 445 f. The lizard was one of the largest figures but the construction of the Pan American highway sliced the figure in two.
Geometric figures are found in large numbers and include lines, triangles, angles, spirals and circles, the most known is the Runway. Human shapes include hands and a human like shape known as the Austronaut. Phytomorphic drawings consists of trees and flowers.
Discovery and theories of the Nazca Lines
The lines were discovered in 1939 by Paul Kosok, a Long Island University professor who was on a research mission to study the ancient irrigation system used by pre-Inca civilizations in the coast of Peru. During a flight over the Nazca desert between the Nazca and Grande Rivers he observed long lines and after outlining them he concluded they formed the shape of a bird. His conclusion was inmediate; the lines were not part of the ancient irrigation system but something completely different. The same day, June 21, 1939, it was the Winter solstice for the southern hemisphere; Kosok followed his curiosity and found an area where multiple lines converged. He noticed that the sunset coincided with the direction of these lines; he therefore concluded that there must be a relation between the layout of the lines and the position of the stars. The Nazca Lines could have been used to mark the winter and summer Solstices or important dates, maybe the largest astronomic textbook ever created.
Later archeological studies showed that the Nazca people were the creators of these magnificent drawings. Evidence of that connection is the finding of the same patterns in their art including pottery, and textiles in addition to carbon-14 analysis. It was Maria Reiche, who worked closely with Paul Kosok, who continued to decipher the goeglyphs and who dedicated her life to the research and protection of the Nazca Lines.
From the observation of the lines many minds have arrived at different conclusions. Some believe that it was the labor of extraterrestrials as the only way to observe the lines is flying over them. This theory was supported by Erich von Daniken who in 1968 published his book Chariots of the Gods where he suggested that the lines were landing fields and the pictures were signals and that they were built by ancient astronauts.
Others believe that it was the local Nazca people who created them but scientist have different views as to the meaning of the lines. Many archeologists such as Johan Reinhard believe that the lines had a religion meaning and were meant to worship gods who would bring a successful crop. As in otherpre-Inca cultures the Nazca worshipped mountains and water sources, according to this group of archeologist the lines represented sacred passageways leading to places where the gods could be worshipped. The drawings were offerings to the gods. This type of worshipping is also observed in other pre-Inca cultures across the region. Archeologists following this theory conclude that there is insufficient evidence to support the astronomic calendar theory of Kosok and Reiche.
According to Maria Reiche and Paul Kosok not giving the Nazca people credit for their outstanding labor falls into prejudice, even if primitive they had a broader vision of the cosmos and were highly intelligent in their attempt to translate abstract concepts into their drawings. They had a special connection with astronomy as they understood that life depended on a successful crop so in order time agricultural events they observed the influence of celestial bodies in agriculture and how they influenced when to start the seeds, when to harvest and when to prepare the soil for the next season. The Nazca people had reached unsuspected level of sophistication and cultural level.
German scholar Maria Reiche developed her theory using her background as a mathematician and her total immersion in Andean culture and history which gave her an undeniable advantage. Her conclusions were based on detailed observation, measurement and exhausting cataloging of all the lines and drawings which she published in many journals and publications. In 1949 Maria Reich published her book The Secret of the Pampas and with it she let the whole world know about the enigmatic Nazca Lines. Maria Reiche died in 1998 after contributing 40 years of her life to the study and conservation of the lines.
To many archeologist and scientists the origin and purpose of the lines remain a mystery and an enigma, there are still many pieces of the puzzle that have not been found. There are many questions still unanswered, but they are testimony of the extraordinary culture that developed in the Peruvian coast 2500 years ago.
How were the Nazcas Lines built?
Whether by coincidence or careful study the Nazcas chose the ideal place where to build their enduring figures and lines. Many have seen a mysterious element to the long lasting geoglyphs but there is a scientific explanation. This is desert area and one of the driest regions in the world, the surface is not made of sand but of a brown reddish color stone, iron-oxide, and underneath there is a sub layer of yellow soil. The lines were constructed by removing the layer of stones leaving the lighter soil exposed which leaves a shallow of about 10 to15 centimeters or 3.9 to 5.9 inches deep. The lack erosion is due to the fact that the speed of winds will decrease a few centimeters from the surface and the stones act as a cushioning wall that protect the geoglyphs from strong winds. Another element that prevents erosion is that the soil is made up of high content of lime which with the morning mist hardens and creates a thick protective layer. That is the reason when one steps over the lines it leaves a permanent mark.
Joe Nickell, a professor at the University of Kentucky successfully attempted to recreate the 440-foot long Nazca condor. His team used tools and materials thought to be available by the Nazcas such as ropes, wood sticks and white lime to mark the field. They recreated the figure on a small scale establishing a center line. They measured the distance between the center line and a desired point in the figure for example the tail feathers; the measured number of units would require the same number of units but on a larger scale on the field. This experimental drawing shed a light as to how they were able to construct such figures and to the possibly technique used to recreate the lines. According to the scholars once the technique was found to be successful for producing drawings on slopes and irregular terrain, the same technique was expected to consistently have good results. In addition, during the drawing of the condor the team was able to see large portions of the drawing from the ground.
How to get to the Nazca Lines from Lima
There are no commercial passenger flights from Lima to Nazca. Although there is a small airport it only serves for light aircraft touring the lines. Nazca is about 443 km or 275 miles from the capital, and the only way to get there is by bus which will take you south along the Pan-American Highway. It is a 6 hour drive and the scenery is mostly desert and sand dunes. You will arrive at the aerodrome and board a small light aircraft with capacity of 6 to 12 people. The flight runs all the way through the south Valley of Ica and San Jose and it takes over one hour and 20 minutes. We recommend you book your flight over the Nazca Lines in Lima.