Footprints of the desert

A civilization lost centuries ago, enigmatic figures on the desert sand and dozens of theories trying to explain the “how, when and why”. Can you think of a more fascinating destination?

Things in life are a matter of perspective. In the case of the Nazca Lines, maybe even more.

Tattooed in the sand of the Peruvian desert for centuries, the lines were not discovered until the arrive of the first commercial flights, towards the 30s of the last century.

Large-scale ‘painted’ geometric figures, animals and supernatural beings lied between the valleys of Palpa and Nazca, Peru, along some 450 square kilometers. In 2018, 50 new figures were discovered with the help of drones and satellites in the province of Palpa. Some had been there since 500 BC, but it was necessary to look at them with new perspectives (and technologies) to find them.

What are The Nazca Lines?

The correct term to name these figures is ‘geoglyph’, which means “engraved on earth”. They were carried out by the Nazca culture (50 – 650 AD) and previous ones, such as Paracas (800-200 BC) and Topará (200 BC – 100 AD), to which it is believed that most of the new geoglyphs found belong.

To ‘paint them’ Nazcas had to manually remove the dark stones, oxidized by contact with the air, and discover the light-colored ground beneath. The stones were placed on the edges to create more contrast, or forming eyes, mouths and other details.

One of the biggest enigmas is how they could create so stylized figures in a single stroke, without perspective. The perfection of the lines and their gigantic size – between 50 and 300 meters – only feeds the legends around these large-scale cave paintings. In the Nazca culture, the supernatural and the real coexist, which has given rise to different theories: from extraterrestrial help in its construction or that the lines were a communication channel with the gods.

Watching from the sky

To explore the Nazca lines, it is best to stay at a nearby hotel, such as Casa Andina, next to the Nazca Main Square, and hire a plane excursion to discover them from the heights. A matter of perspective, remember?

A guide will explain the different figures: the monkey, the hummingbird, the spider and try to unravel the mysteries that revolve around them.

The woman who swept the desert

Be careful – the ancient Nazca Lines “hook”. María Reiche, a German researcher in love with mathematics and enigmas, couldn’t get away from them since she knew about them in the early 1940s, thanks to fellow archaeologist Julio César Tello.

“The lady of the Nazca Lines”, as she came to be known, dedicated her life to studying and protecting them. She built a viewpoint from which to observe them and was one of the first to draw a complete map of the geoglyphs.

“The woman who swept the desert,” as she was also known, measured almost fifty figures and a thousand of these lines using only a measuring tape, a compass and a broom. She was a main defender of the astronomical theory, which saw the Nazca lines as a gigantic solar and lunar calendar, used to predict rains and crops.

Since the 1980s, this theory has been replaced by another, which relates geoglyphs to ritual activities. Remains of ceramics, textiles and other objects, as well as a compact surface, which suggests frequent walks on foot above them, are the main tracks.

Things can change, of course. Desert sand can reveal more lines and more mysteries; all depends on the perspective with which we look at it.

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