An Art Gallery in the Desert
The Nazca desert lies in southern Peru on a high and arid plateau in the foothills of the Andes Mountains. The climate of this desert is dry even by desert standards, with only a sparse twenty minutes of rainfall each year. The ground is flat and stony and there is no dust or sand cover. Erosion from the elements is virtually non-existent. Yet, it’s the harshness of this environment that has been perfect for preserving the world-famous Nazca Lines. The ancient geoglyphs were believed to be created somewhere between 500 BC and 500 AD. Currently about 300 different figures have been discovered etched into the pampa sand, in an area that covers 400 square miles. The world is fortunate to be able to observe them. In any other place, these artworks would have been naturally erased by the elements.
The ground in Nazca is unique. The upper crust contains ferrous oxide and is much darker than the lighter-colored subsoil beneath. Ancient artists removed furrows of this dark crust which exposed the whitish-grey layer beneath, creating an amazing natural contrast. The result what looks like chalked or painted lines. The makeup of the pantheon of artwork is astounding. The gallery consists of animal figures, flowers, plants, and other interesting objects. Some of the Nazca lines seem strange, with no explanation. One example is as a being with two enormous hands, one somewhat normal and the other oddly shaped with only four fingers. Taken as a whole, the one thing the Nazca lines have in common is their enormous size and the straightness of the lines. Like many other mysterious ancient places, the engineering seems almost impossible considering the time period they were constructed.
How, When, & Why
The “discovery” of the Nazca Lines is attributed to many sources. Some say they were first spotted when commercial airlines began flying across the Peruvian desert in the 1920’s. Passengers on those flights reported seeing ‘primitive landing strips’ on the ground below. Others attribute them to Peruvian archaeologist Toribio Mejia Xesspe who spotted them while he was hiking through the foothills in 1927. Regardless of whom made the discovery, the fact remains that the glyphs are all so large that they can only truly be appreciated from high above the plain.
Archaeologists, historians, and mathematicians have all tried to determine the purpose of the lines and how a land-based society using primitive methods were able to create such wonders. Some have found the remains of wooden stakes at the ends of some lines. From the evidence, it seems like simple surveying equipment was used. It is believed that these massive shapes could have been constructed by using a smaller drawing and scaling it up on a grand level. This is one theory to explain how they could have been made without aerial assistance.
The real mystery lies not in how they were made, but why. Since their discovery many explanations have been theorized. They range from depictions of ancient gods to alien spacecraft landing markers. Others point to a possible celestial calendar of sorts. Still others theorize the Nazca lines are primitive reproductions of star figures, much like modern astronomy. Still others define them as fertility symbols, navigational tools, or some part of a now forgotten religion. The list doesn’t stop there. Others say they are a map for underground water sources, sacred pathways, or offerings to Gods or Goddesses. There doesn’t seem to be a prevailing theory and as time goes on, the ideas of what they stand for continues to grow. It’s unlikely that anyone will discover their true meaning. But while the scientists ponder, the rest of us are left to marvel in the works, both for their size and their beauty.
Some of the most admired figures are the Colibri (The Hummingbird,) the Araña (Spider,) Perro (Dog,) The Arbol Tree, Mono (Monkey,) Papagallo (Parrot,) and the Astronauta (Astronaut).
Nazca Lines Tours has some interesting theories on their website.
Previously Undiscovered Nazca Lines
Originally Published June 26th, 2016 – Updated May 16th, 2022 by the author.