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The Nasca Lines

An Ancient Mystery

Ages ago, a mysterious culture etched thousands of figures and shapes into the barren desert rock outside of the present-day town of Nasca, Peru. No one knows for certain why these people did it. The culture that created them vanished into the dusty desert winds, and for centuries the drawings waited alone in the ageless wasteland. They weren't discovered until the 1920s when they were spotted by pilots of the first commercial flights in the region. Those who went to investigate dubbed them “The Nasca Lines.”

From ground level, the intricate designs appear to be nothing more than a confused jumble of shallow ruts in the sand and rock of the parched desert. When viewed from the air or an observation tower, however, the shape of these drawings—called “geoglyphs” by scientists—becomes apparent.

Geography, Hummingbirds and an Astronaut

Some of them are massive: one of the hummingbirds measures 123 meters (400 ft) in length. Another line is 65 kilometers (40 mi) long. Many of the figures are geometric, such as trapezoids and triangles, and others represent animals such as a spider, birds and a lizard. The “astronaut” is a bulb-headed humanoid with round eyes. Some say the figure represents an alien; others say he's a man in a space suit.

The Whale and the Monkey

Interestingly, two of the designs, the whale and the monkey, represent animals that are not found anywhere near the lines. They're considered evidence that the makers of the lines were traders or pilgrim…or space aliens.

Nasca Culture

The age of the lines is unknown. The Nasca culture did live in the region for several centuries (roughly from the first to the ninth century AD), but there is no concrete way to date the lines. The ruined city of Cahuachi, located nearby, may yet reveal some answers.

Modern Theories of the Nasca Lines

The Nasca Lines remain a mystery today. Maria Reiche, a German mathematician who devoted her life to unlocking the secrets of the lines, believed that the designs represent an astrological calendar, and that each of the designs may correspond to a constellation. This theory is disputed by a number of reliable sources, and a National Geographic study completed in 1968 seems to disprove it. Her work is preserved in her old home, which is now the Casa-Museo Maria Reiche, dedicated to her memory.

Erich Von Däniken, a Swiss writer, suggested in his 1968 book Chariots of the Gods that the lines were intended as a sort of landing strip for extraterrestrial beings. Others believe that the lines were made as walking or running paths: priests or participants would follow the trails during elaborate ceremonies meant to please the Gods. Still others argue that the lines show underground rivers of water.

In late 2012, a team of Japanese scientists will be opening a station to further research the lines, their origins and possible meanings.

Protection and Preservation of the Nasca Lines

Preserving the Nasca Lines is one of the challenges facing Peru today. The elements in the desert are harsh, and the lines are naturally eroding. Human intervention, however, is proving much more destructive: advertisers and political campaigns have carved messages in the rock between the designs. New copper and gold mines threaten some of the lines as well. Grave robbers threaten to loot the recently discovered tombs at the nearby Cahuachi archaeological site. The area has recently been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which should help in preservation efforts.

If these efforts fail, perhaps the aliens will come back and fix their landing pad.

By Christopher Minster
I am a writer and editor at V!VA Travel guides here in Quito, where I specialize in adding quality content to the site and also in spooky things like...
20 Jun 2012

Things to do in The Nasca Lines

Mirador and Cerro

125316The Nasca Lines can be viewed from a plane weaving the sky above them, or from other, more down-to-earth vantage points. The cerro is a solitary hill in the midst of this vast desert. Climbing to the ...
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