Human prehistory has graced the earth with many marvelous formations, but few are as fragile or as enigmatic as the geoglyphs etched into the Nazca Desert.
The famous Nazca Lines, located 400km south of Lima, depict more than a hundred stylized figures – including flowers, orcas, llamas, hummingbirds, monkeys, and humans – and the largest figures stretch more than 200m across.
Though the Nazca Lines are shallowly carved and quite old – they date back to sometime between 500 BC and 500 AD – these images have withstood the tests of time, thanks to their unique location: a high, arid, and isolated plateau. This plateau’s relatively windless climate has left the Nazca Lines undisturbed for centuries.
While the images are thought to have had an astronomical and/or spiritual function, their exact purpose remains a mystery.
UNESCO designated the Nazca Lines a World Heritage Site in 1994.
Where are they?
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 (togehter with Julian Nott) 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.”
– Jim Woodman
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.
What’s the purpose?
The purpose of the lines continues to elude researchers and remains a matter of conjecture. Ancient Nazca culture was prehistoric, which means they left no written records.
One idea is that they are linked to the heavens with some of the lines representing constellations in the night sky.
Another idea is that the lines play a role in pilgrimage, with one walking across them to reach a sacred place such as Cahuachi and its adobe pyramids.
Yet another idea is that the lines are connected with water, something vital to life yet hard to get in the desert, and may have played a part in water-based rituals.
The Mystery of Nazca Lines – A Documentary