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. About 300 different figures are etched into the pampa sand in an area that covers 400 square miles. In any other place, these artworks would have been naturally erased by the elements.
The ground in Nazca is unique, as the upper crust which contains ferrous oxide is much darker than the lighter-colored subsoil beneath. The ancient artists removed furrows of this dark crust exposing the whitish-grey layer beneath, creating what looks like painted lines. The makeup of the pantheon of artwork is astounding consisting of figures of animals, flowers and plants, and other objects. Some of the pictures are strange, such as a being with two enormous hands, one normal and the other with only four fingers. The one thing they all have in common is their enormous size and the straightness of the lines, almost too straight for that era.
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. Their passengers 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. It seems like simple surveying equipment was used. Consequently, by using a smaller drawing and scaling it up on a grand level, it is possible to create a reproduction 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. A celestial calendar of sorts; an observatory to guide students of primitive astronomy have also been championed. Still others defines them as fertility symbols, navigational tools, or some part of a now forgotten religion. Also some say they are a map for underground water sources. As time goes on, someone might discover their true meaning. But until then, we 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.)