The Nazca Lines are a series of geoglyphs – or lines within the landscape – created in Peru by the Nazca people between 400-650AD. There are hundreds of identified figures and animals, on a site which covers about 190sq miles. You’re probably familiar with the most famous of these, such as the spider:
or the hummingbird:
In fact there are quite a few designs on the site:
It’s not every day that a culture decides to make pictures on the landscape of animals, birds and shapes hundreds of metres in size, and archaeologists and others have been having a fab time figuring out what it all means.
The figures are all made, and have been fantastically preserved by the geology on site: the ground here is a white/grey lime based soil, covered in red pebbles. So to make a pale line in the ground, a shallow groove is created, exposing the grey undersoil. Because the undersoil contains lime, this reacts to the morning air moisture which hardens the lime subsoil and forms a protective layer over the surface. In effect lime based concrete holds the figures in place. In addition the Nazca desert maintains a stable temperature of 25 degrees C and is predominantly windless which has helped the lines survive.
What the lines are for is a whole different question. The earliest people to try and figure them out were Paul Kosok and Maria Reiche in 1940-41, who proposed that the figures were astrological markers for the sun and other planetary bodies. Essentially a series of giant astronomical calendars. In 1990 Hawkins and Aveni, two archeoastronomists, concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support this theory. Other more recent theories have also been astronomically based: in 1988 Phylis Pitluga, a protege of Reiche concluded that the figures represented the irregular dark shaped patches between constellations. She has also put forward a theory interpreting the spider glyph as tracking the position of Orions belt through the year. However both theories have been critisised for not accounting for the position of all the lines present.
Theories from Woodmann,of the Nazca using hot air balloons to gain perspective on the sites to create the massive figures, to Steirlins theory of them being used in the production of the long textiles found in the Inca Mummy Wrappings have also been put forward and discounted. Erik von Daniken maintained that the lines were runways for alien space ships and provided evidence for a higher level of technology being introduced into the area which we have now lost. This theory has been rejected by scholars.
The discovery of two new small figures was announced in early 2011 by a Japanese team from Yamagata University. One of these resembles a human head and is dated to the early period of Nazca culture or earlier and the other, undated, an animal. In March 2012 the university announced that a new research center would be opened at the site in September 2012 to study the area for the next 15 years, so hopefully more answers will be forthcoming in the near future.