Lines of Nazca Peru
giant monkey biomorph on the Nasca desert plain. (©
Jarnogz & Dreamstime.com)
at Nazca is 37 miles long, one mile wide and covered with
giant figures etched into the ground.
come in two styles: biomorphs (70 animal and plant shapes)
and geoglyphes (900 lines, triangles, spirals, circles
by Peruvian archaeologist Toribio Mejia Xesspe who spotted
them while hiking through the surrounding foothills in
1927 they were not well known until seen from aircraft
in the 1930's.
by Swiss writer, Erich von Daniken who suggested they
were made to be seen by aliens visitors from above.
are thought to be constructed around 200 BC and the
geoglyphs around 300AD.
many theories about how the lines were constructed including
the idea that construction was directed above from a balloon,
but most archaeologists believe it was done from the ground
using simple surveying techniques.
for their construction is unknown, but it is believed
that the figures had religious significance.
In the Peruvian Desert,
about 200 miles south of Lima, there lies a plain between the
Inca and Nazca (sometimes also spelled Nasca) Valleys. Across
this plain, in an area measuring 37 miles long and 1-mile wide,
is an assortment of perfectly-straight lines, many running parallel,
others intersecting, forming a grand geometric form. In and
around the lines there are also trapezoidal zones, strange symbols,
and pictures of birds and beasts all etched on a giant scale
that can only be appreciated from the sky.
The figures come
in two types: biomorphs and geoglyphs. The biomorphs are some
70 animal and plant figures that include a spider, hummingbird,
monkey and a 1,000-foot-long pelican. The biomorphs are grouped
together in one area on the plain. Some archaeologists believe
they were constructed around 200 BC, about 500 years before
There are about 900
geoglyphs on the plain. Geoglyphs are geometric forms that include
straight lines, triangles, spirals, circles and trapezoids.
They are enormous in size. The longest straight line goes nine
miles across the plain.
by Peruvian archaeologist Toribio Mejia Xesspe who spotted them
while hiking through the surrounding foothills in 1927, the
forms are so difficult to see from the ground that they were
not widely known until the 1930's when aircraft spotted them
while surveying for water. The plain, crisscrossed, by these
giant lines with many forming rectangles, has a striking resemblance
to a modern airport. The Swiss writer, Erich von Daniken, even
suggested they had been built for the convenience of ancient
visitors from space to land their ships. As tempting as it might
be to subscribe to this theory, the desert floor at Nazca is
soft earth and loose stone, not tarmac, and would not support
the landing wheels of either an aircraft or a flying saucer.
So why are the lines
there? The American explorer Paul Kosok, who made his first
visit to Nazca in the 1940s, suggested that the lines were astronomically
significant and that the plain acted as a giant observatory.
He called them "the largest astronomy book in the world." Gerald
Hawkins, an American astronomer, tested this theory in 1968
by feeding the position of a sample of lines into a computer
and having a program calculate how many lines coincided with
an important astronomical event. Hawkins showed the number of
lines that were astronomically significant were only about the
same number that would be the result of pure chance. This makes
it seem unlikely Nazca is an observatory.
Perhaps the best
theory for the lines and symbols belongs to Tony Morrison, the
English explorer. By researching the old folk ways of the people
of the Andes mountains, Morrison discovered a tradition of wayside
shrines linked by straight pathways. The faithful would move
from shrine to shrine praying and meditating. Often the shrine
was as simple as a small pile of stones. Morrison suggests that
the lines at Nazca were similar in purpose and on a vast scale.
The symbols may have also served as special enclosures for religious
How were they built?
The lines were apparently made by brushing away the reddish,
iron oxide covered pebbles that compose the desert surface and
uncovering the white colored sand underneath. In most places
wind, rain and erosion would quickly remove all traces of this
within a few years. At Nazca, though, the lines have been preserved
because it is such a windless, dry and isolated location.
A writer by the name
of Jim Woodman believes that the lines and figures could not
have been made without somebody in the air to direct the operations.
"You simply can't see anything from ground level," states Woodman.
"You can't appreciate any of it from anywhere except from above.
You can't tell me the Nazca builders would have gone to the
monumental efforts they did without ever being able to see it."
Woodman has proposed
that ancient hot-air balloons were used to get an aerial view
of the construction. To prove his hypothesis, Woodman constructed
a balloon using materials that would have been available to
the Nazca people. He was able to conduct a successful flight,
though it only lasted two minutes.
are extremely skeptical of Woodman's conclusions, however, as
they find little evidence in the remains left by the Nazca of
any balloon construction or operation.
It is more likely
that the Nazca people used simple surveying techniques in their
work. Straight lines can be made easily for great distances
with simple tools. Two wooden stakes placed as a straight line
would be used to guide the placement of a third stake along
the line. One person would sight along the first two stakes
and instruct a second person in the placement of the new stake.
This could be repeated as many times as needed to make an almost
perfectly-straight line miles in length. Evidence that the line
makers used this technique exists in the form of the remains
of a few stakes found at the ends of some of the lines.
The symbols were
probably made by drawing the desired figure at some reasonable
size, then using a grid system to divide it up. The symbol could
then be redrawn at full scale by recreating the grid on the
ground and working on each individual square one at a time.
Related to Water?
Recently two researchers,
David Johnson and Steve Mabee, have advanced a theory that the
geoglyphs may be related to water. The Nazca plain is one of
the driest places on Earth, getting less than one inch of rain
a year. Johnson, while looking for sources of water in the region,
noticed that ancient aqueducts, called puquios, seemed to be
connected with some of the lines. Johnson thinks that the shapes
may be a giant map of the underground water sources traced on
the land. Mabee is working to gather evidence that might confirm
are more skeptical, but admit that in a region where finding
water was vital to survival, there might well be some connection
between the ceremonial purpose of the lines and water. Johan
Reinhard, a cultural anthropologist with the National Geographic
Society, found that villagers in Bolivia walk along a straight
pathway to shrines while praying and dancing for rain. Something
similar may have been done at the ancient Nazca lines.
A recently discovered
headless body suggests that human sacrifice was used by the
Nazca people in religion ceremonies. "Human sacrifice and decapitation
were part of powerful rituals that would have allayed fears
by invoking the ancestors to ensure fertility and the continuation
of Nasca society," wrote Christina Conlee of Texas State University
in an article in Current Anthropology. "The decapitation of
the La Tiza individual appears to have been part of a ritual
associated with ensuring agricultural fertility and the continuation
of life and rebirth of the community." The body is one of eight
found in the Nazca area, buried seated with no head. A ceramic
jar painted with an image of a head was found next to the remains.
The head on the jar has a tree with eyes growing out of it,
making it seem likely that the sacrifice was part of a fertility
What was done with
the heads of the victims? The Nazca were known to collect "Trophy
Heads." The Nazca removed the brain and soft tissue from the
skulls, sewed the lips closed with cactus spines and drilled
a hole through the forehead to accommodate a loop of woven rope.
The heads were then hung on the ropes for display. Originally
these were considered to be war trophies collected from distant
tribes, but recent DNA analysis shows that the heads came from
the Nazca population itself, suggesting that the motive was
religious in nature.
Other South American
Lines and Figures
The lines at Nazca
aren't the only landscape figures South America boasts. About
850 miles south of the plain is the largest human figure in
the world laid out upon the side of Solitary Mountain in Chile.
The Giant of Atacama stands 393 feet high and is surrounded
by lines similar to those at Nazca.
Along the Pacific
Coast in the foothills of the Andes Mountains is etched a figure
resembling a giant candelabrum. Further south, Sierra Pintada,
which means "the painted mountain" in Spanish, is covered with
vast pictures including spirals, circles, warriors and a condor.
Archaeologists speculate that these figures, clearly visible
from the ground, served as guideposts for Inca traders.
figure appears to be a giant spider. (© Jarnogz
Copyright Lee Krystek 1997-2010.
All Rights Reserved.