Since 2006, a team of Japanese archaeologists, using a 3D imaging scanner, has uncovered nearly 25 previously hidden geoglyphs in the high desert of southern Peru. These new aerial photographs add yet another chapter to the mystery of the millennia-old Nazca Lines.
So, what are the Nazca Lines? A series of giant animal and geometic figures etched into the high plateaus of Peru’s Nazca Desert, the Nazca Lines are by far the world’s most impressive collection of ancient geoglyphs. More than 1,000 of these images have been identified, the vast majority of which are straight lines that stretch up to 30 miles in length. Around 300 are geometric shapes such as spirals, circles, and trapezoids; there are also a number of phytomorphic drawings of various flowers and other plants.
The most fascinating images are the 70 or so human and animal figures, many of which stretch more than 1,000 feet in length—around the size of the Empire State Building. Notable among these are a monkey, hummingbird, spider, whale, and a human-like figure known as “The Astronaut.” Collectively, the Nazca Lines were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.
Where are the Nazca Lines located? These mysterious drawings are spread across some 400 square miles of high desert in the Pampa region of southern Peru, around 200 miles southeast of Lima near the town of Nazca. The area receives less than an inch of rain a year, making the white lines visible from the air against the brown and red sands. (The time of day also effects visibility.)
How old are the lines? Scientists estimate the Nazca Lines to have been etched into the desert crust more than 2,000 years ago. The images were “lost” until 1926, when Peruvian archeologist Toribio Mejia Xesspe first spotted them while hiking through the foothills. It would take another decade, however, along with the emergence of commercial flight, for the lines to become part of the modern consciousness.
How were they made? Most scientists agree that the lines were created by the Nazca Indians, who flourished in the region from around 200 to 800CE. Noted for their masterful textile and ceramic works, the Nazca were also skilled engineers, constructing an aqueduct system that is still used today. Experts propose that these ancient people designed their namesake lines with an elemental grid system, then achieved their vision using ropes, rocks, and sticks. The purpose of the lines was most likely ceremonial, based on an astronomical calendar.
Other Nazca Lines theories vary from intricate irrigation systems to pleas to ancient gods for help with farming to extra-terrestrial intervention.
Many archaeologists say the “new” images discovered over the last decade are simply more detailed photographs of previously known lines. There is some contention to this hypothesis, however, since some of the recently uncovered shapes—most notably a giant beast with horns—were designed with a different style than their more famous geometric cousins.
And so, the Nazca lines mystery continues….