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Nazca Lines

Nazca Lines

Overview
The Nazca Lines are a series of ancient geoglyph
Geoglyph
A geoglyph is a large design or motif produced on the ground and typically formed by clastic rocks or similarly durable elements of the geography, such as stones, stone fragments, gravel, or earth...

s located in the Nazca Desert
Nazca Province
The Nazca Province is one of five provinces of the Ica Region of Peru. The capital of the province is the city of Nazca.- Political division :The Nasca Province is divided into five districts , each of which is headed by a mayor :...

 in southern Peru
Peru
Peru , officially the Republic of Peru , is a country in western South America. It is bordered on the north by Ecuador and Colombia, on the east by Brazil, on the southeast by Bolivia, on the south by Chile, and on the west by the Pacific Ocean....

. They were designated a UNESCO
UNESCO
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations...

 World Heritage Site
World Heritage Site
A UNESCO World Heritage Site is a place that is listed by the UNESCO as of special cultural or physical significance...

 in 1994. The high, arid plateau stretches more than 80 kilometres (49.7 mi) between the towns of Nazca
Nazca
Nazca is a system of valleys on the southern coast of Peru, and the name of the region's largest existing town in the Nazca Province. It is also the name applied to the Nazca culture that flourished in the area between 300 BC and AD 800...

 and Palpa
Palpa, Peru
Palpa is a town in Southern Peru, capital of the province Palpa in the region Ica.-References:...

 on the Pampas de Jumana about 400 km south of Lima
Lima
Lima is the capital and the largest city of Peru. It is located in the valleys of the Chillón, Rímac and Lurín rivers, in the central part of the country, on a desert coast overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Together with the seaport of Callao, it forms a contiguous urban area known as the Lima...

. Although some local geoglyphs resemble Paracas motifs
Paracas culture
The Paracas culture was an important Andean society between approximately 800 BCE and 100 BCE, with an extensive knowledge of irrigation and water management. It developed in the Paracas Peninsula, located in what today is the Paracas District of the Pisco Province in the Ica Region...

, scholars believe the Nazca Lines were created by the Nazca culture
Nazca culture
The Nazca culture was the archaeological culture that flourished from 100 to 800 CE beside the dry southern coast of Peru in the river valleys of the Rio Grande de Nazca drainage and the Ica Valley...

 between 400 and 650 AD.
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Encyclopedia
The Nazca Lines are a series of ancient geoglyph
Geoglyph
A geoglyph is a large design or motif produced on the ground and typically formed by clastic rocks or similarly durable elements of the geography, such as stones, stone fragments, gravel, or earth...

s located in the Nazca Desert
Nazca Province
The Nazca Province is one of five provinces of the Ica Region of Peru. The capital of the province is the city of Nazca.- Political division :The Nasca Province is divided into five districts , each of which is headed by a mayor :...

 in southern Peru
Peru
Peru , officially the Republic of Peru , is a country in western South America. It is bordered on the north by Ecuador and Colombia, on the east by Brazil, on the southeast by Bolivia, on the south by Chile, and on the west by the Pacific Ocean....

. They were designated a UNESCO
UNESCO
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations...

 World Heritage Site
World Heritage Site
A UNESCO World Heritage Site is a place that is listed by the UNESCO as of special cultural or physical significance...

 in 1994. The high, arid plateau stretches more than 80 kilometres (49.7 mi) between the towns of Nazca
Nazca
Nazca is a system of valleys on the southern coast of Peru, and the name of the region's largest existing town in the Nazca Province. It is also the name applied to the Nazca culture that flourished in the area between 300 BC and AD 800...

 and Palpa
Palpa, Peru
Palpa is a town in Southern Peru, capital of the province Palpa in the region Ica.-References:...

 on the Pampas de Jumana about 400 km south of Lima
Lima
Lima is the capital and the largest city of Peru. It is located in the valleys of the Chillón, Rímac and Lurín rivers, in the central part of the country, on a desert coast overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Together with the seaport of Callao, it forms a contiguous urban area known as the Lima...

. Although some local geoglyphs resemble Paracas motifs
Paracas culture
The Paracas culture was an important Andean society between approximately 800 BCE and 100 BCE, with an extensive knowledge of irrigation and water management. It developed in the Paracas Peninsula, located in what today is the Paracas District of the Pisco Province in the Ica Region...

, scholars believe the Nazca Lines were created by the Nazca culture
Nazca culture
The Nazca culture was the archaeological culture that flourished from 100 to 800 CE beside the dry southern coast of Peru in the river valleys of the Rio Grande de Nazca drainage and the Ica Valley...

 between 400 and 650 AD. The hundreds of individual figures range in complexity from simple lines to stylized hummingbirds, spider
Spider
Spiders are air-breathing arthropods that have eight legs, and chelicerae with fangs that inject venom. They are the largest order of arachnids and rank seventh in total species diversity among all other groups of organisms...

s, monkey
Monkey
A monkey is a primate, either an Old World monkey or a New World monkey. There are about 260 known living species of monkey. Many are arboreal, although there are species that live primarily on the ground, such as baboons. Monkeys are generally considered to be intelligent. Unlike apes, monkeys...

s, fish
Fish
Fish are a paraphyletic group of organisms that consist of all gill-bearing aquatic vertebrate animals that lack limbs with digits. Included in this definition are the living hagfish, lampreys, and cartilaginous and bony fish, as well as various extinct related groups...

, shark
Shark
Sharks are a type of fish with a full cartilaginous skeleton and a highly streamlined body. The earliest known sharks date from more than 420 million years ago....

s, orca
Orca
The killer whale , commonly referred to as the orca, and less commonly as the blackfish, is a toothed whale belonging to the oceanic dolphin family. Killer whales are found in all oceans, from the frigid Arctic and Antarctic regions to tropical seas...

s, llamas, and lizard
Lizard
Lizards are a widespread group of squamate reptiles, with nearly 3800 species, ranging across all continents except Antarctica as well as most oceanic island chains...

s.

The lines are shallow designs made in the ground by removing the ubiquitous reddish pebbles and uncovering the whitish ground beneath. Hundreds are simple lines or geometric shapes; more than seventy are zoomorphic designs of animals such as birds, fish, llamas, jaguar, monkey, or human figures. Other designs include phytomorphic shapes such as trees and flowers. The largest figures are over 200 metres (656.2 ft) across. Scholars differ in interpreting the purpose of the designs, but in general they ascribe religious significance to them.

The geometric ones could indicate the flow of water or be connected to rituals to summon water. The spiders, birds, and plants could be fertility symbols. Other possible explanations include: irrigation schemes or giant astronomical calendars.


Due to the dry, windless, and stable climate of the plateau
Climate of Peru
The climate of Peru is very diverse, with a large variety of climates and microclimates, including Such a diversity is chiefly conditioned by the presence of the Andes mountains and the cold Humboldt Current....

 and its isolation, for the most part the lines have been preserved. Extremely rare changes in weather may temporarily alter the general designs.

Discovery and construction


After people travelled over the area by plane in the 1930s and saw the Nazca Lines from the air, anthropologists started studying them, with focus on trying to understand how they were created.

Scholars have theorized the Nazca people could have used simple tools and surveying equipment to construct the lines. Studies have found wooden stakes in the ground at the end of some lines, which support this theory. One such stake was carbon-dated and the basis for establishing the age of the design complex. Researcher Joe Nickell
Joe Nickell
Joe Nickell is a prominent skeptical investigator of the paranormal. He also works as an historical document consultant and has helped expose such famous forgeries as the purported diary of Jack the Ripper. In 2002 he was one of a number of experts asked by scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr...

 of the University of Kentucky
University of Kentucky
The University of Kentucky, also known as UK, is a public co-educational university and is one of the state's two land-grant universities, located in Lexington, Kentucky...

 has reproduced the figures by using tools and technology available to the Nazca people. The National Geographic called his work "remarkable in its exactness" when compared to the actual lines. With careful planning and simple technologies, a small team of people could recreate even the largest figures within days, without any aerial assistance. Most of the lines form a trench about 15 centimetres (5.9 in) deep.

The lines were made by removing the reddish-brown iron oxide
Iron oxide
Iron oxides are chemical compounds composed of iron and oxygen. All together, there are sixteen known iron oxides and oxyhydroxides.Iron oxides and oxide-hydroxides are widespread in nature, play an important role in many geological and biological processes, and are widely utilized by humans, e.g.,...

-coated pebbles that cover the surface of the Nazca desert. When the gravel is removed, it leaves a shallow trough ranging from 10 centimetres (3.9 in) to 15 centimetres (5.9 in) deep and the light-colored earth beneath shows in lines of sharply contrasting color and tone. This sublayer contains high amounts of lime which with the morning mist hardens forming a protective layer that shields the lines from winds therefore preventing erosion.

The Nazca "drew" several hundred simple but huge curvilinear animal and human figures by this technique. In total, the earthwork
Earthworks (engineering)
Earthworks are engineering works created through the moving or processing of quantities of soil or unformed rock.- Civil engineering use :Typical earthworks include roads, railway beds, causeways, dams, levees, canals, and berms...

 project is huge and complex: the area encompassing the lines is nearly 500 square kilometre, and the largest figures can span nearly 270 metres (885.8 ft). The extremely dry, windless, and constant climate of the Nazca region has preserved the lines well. The Nazca desert is one of the driest on Earth and maintains a temperature around 25 °C (77 °F) all year round. The lack of wind has helped keep the lines uncovered and visible to the present day.


Purpose


Archeologists, ethnologists, and anthropologists have studied the ancient Nazca culture and the complex to try to determine the purpose of the lines and figures. One theory is that the Nazca people created them to be seen by their gods in the sky. Kosok and Reiche
Maria Reiche
Maria Reiche was a German-born mathematician, archaeologist, and technical translator who is most well-regarded for her research in the Nazca lines in Peru, beginning in 1940. She helped educate people about the resource and gain government recognition and preservation of the property...

 advanced a purpose related to astronomy
Astronomy
Astronomy is a natural science that deals with the study of celestial objects and phenomena that originate outside the atmosphere of Earth...

 and cosmology
Cosmology
Cosmology is the discipline that deals with the nature of the Universe as a whole. Cosmologists seek to understand the origin, evolution, structure, and ultimate fate of the Universe at large, as well as the natural laws that keep it in order...

: the lines were intended to act as a kind of observatory
Observatory
An observatory is a location used for observing terrestrial or celestial events. Astronomy, climatology/meteorology, geology, oceanography and volcanology are examples of disciplines for which observatories have been constructed...

, to point to the places on the distant horizon where the sun and other celestial bodies rose or set. Many prehistoric indigenous
Indigenous peoples
Indigenous peoples are ethnic groups that are defined as indigenous according to one of the various definitions of the term, there is no universally accepted definition but most of which carry connotations of being the "original inhabitants" of a territory....

 cultures in the Americas and elsewhere constructed earthworks that combined such astronomical sighting with their religious cosmology, as did the later Mississippian culture
Mississippian culture
The Mississippian culture was a mound-building Native American culture that flourished in what is now the Midwestern, Eastern, and Southeastern United States from approximately 800 CE to 1500 CE, varying regionally....

 at Cahokia
Cahokia
Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site is the area of an ancient indigenous city located in the American Bottom floodplain, between East Saint Louis and Collinsville in south-western Illinois, across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, Missouri. The site included 120 human-built earthwork mounds...

 in present-day United States. Another example is Stonehenge
Stonehenge
Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument located in the English county of Wiltshire, about west of Amesbury and north of Salisbury. One of the most famous sites in the world, Stonehenge is composed of a circular setting of large standing stones set within earthworks...

 in England. But, Gerald Hawkins
Gerald Hawkins
Gerald Stanley Hawkins was an English astronomer and author most famous for his work in the field of archaeoastronomy. A professor and chair of the astronomy department at Boston University in the United States...

 and Anthony Aveni
Anthony Aveni
Anthony Francis Aveni is an American academic anthropologist, astronomer, and author, noted in particular for his extensive publications and leading contributions to the field of archaeoastronomy. With an academic career spanning over four decades, Aveni is recognized for his influence on the...

, experts in archaeoastronomy
Archaeoastronomy
Archaeoastronomy is the study of how people in the past "have understood the phenomena in the sky how they used phenomena in the sky and what role the sky played in their cultures." Clive Ruggles argues it is misleading to consider archaeoastronomy to be the study of ancient astronomy, as modern...

, concluded in 1990 that there was insufficient evidence to support such an astronomical explanation.

In 1985, the archaeologist Johan Reinhard
Johan Reinhard
Dr. Johan Reinhard is an Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society. He is also a Senior Research Fellow at The Mountain Institute, West Virginia, a Visiting Professor at Catholic University, Salta, Argentina, and an Honorary Professor of Catholic University, Arequipa, Peru...

 published archaeological, ethnographic, and historical data demonstrating that worship of mountains and other water sources predominated in Nazca religion and economy from ancient to recent times. He theorized that the lines and figures were part of religious practices involving the worship of deities associated with the availability of water, which directly related to the success and productivity of crops. He interpreted the lines as sacred paths leading to places where these deities could be worshiped. The figures were symbols representing animals and objects meant to invoke the gods' aid in supplying water. But, the precise meanings of many of the individual geoglyphs remain unsolved as of 2011.

Henri Stierlin, a Swiss art historian specializing in Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

 and the Middle East
Middle East
The Middle East is a region that encompasses Western Asia and Northern Africa. It is often used as a synonym for Near East, in opposition to Far East...

, published a book in 1983 linking the Nazca Lines to the production of ancient textile
Textile
A textile or cloth is a flexible woven material consisting of a network of natural or artificial fibres often referred to as thread or yarn. Yarn is produced by spinning raw fibres of wool, flax, cotton, or other material to produce long strands...

s that archeologists have found wrapping mummies of the Paracas culture
Paracas culture
The Paracas culture was an important Andean society between approximately 800 BCE and 100 BCE, with an extensive knowledge of irrigation and water management. It developed in the Paracas Peninsula, located in what today is the Paracas District of the Pisco Province in the Ica Region...

. He contended that the people may have used the lines and trapezes as giant, primitive loom
Loom
A loom is a device used to weave cloth. The basic purpose of any loom is to hold the warp threads under tension to facilitate the interweaving of the weft threads...

s to fabricate the extremely long strings and wide pieces of textile that are typical of the area. By his theory, the figurative patterns (smaller and less common) were meant only for ritual
Ritual
A ritual is a set of actions, performed mainly for their symbolic value. It may be prescribed by a religion or by the traditions of a community. The term usually excludes actions which are arbitrarily chosen by the performers....

istic purposes.

Alternative theories



Some individuals propose alternative theories. Jim Woodmann believes that the Nazca Lines could not have been made without some form of manned flight to see the figures properly. Based on his study of available technology, he suggests that a hot air balloon
Hot air balloon
The hot air balloon is the oldest successful human-carrying flight technology. It is in a class of aircraft known as balloon aircraft. On November 21, 1783, in Paris, France, the first untethered manned flight was made by Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent d'Arlandes in a hot air...

 was the only possible means of flight. To test this hypothesis, Woodmann made a hot-air balloon using materials and techniques that he understood to be available to the Nazca people. The balloon flew, after a fashion. Most scholars have rejected Woodmann's thesis as ad hoc
Ad hoc hypothesis
In science and philosophy, an ad hoc hypothesis is a hypothesis added to a theory in order to save it from being falsified. Ad hoc hypothesizing is compensating for anomalies not anticipated by the theory in its unmodified form....

, because of the lack of any evidence of such balloons.

Swiss author Erich von Däniken
Erich von Däniken
Erich Anton Paul von Däniken is a Swiss author best known for his controversial claims about extraterrestrial influences on early human culture, in books such as Chariots of the Gods?, published in 1968...

 suggests the Nazca lines and other complex constructions represent higher technological knowledge than commonly believed to be existing when the glyphs were created. Von Däniken maintains that the Nazca lines in Peru are runway
Runway
According to ICAO a runway is a "defined rectangular area on a land aerodrome prepared for the landing and take-off of aircraft." Runways may be a man-made surface or a natural surface .- Orientation and dimensions :Runways are named by a number between 01 and 36, which is generally one tenth...

s of an ancient airfield that was used by extraterrestrials mistaken by the natives to be their gods.

Maria Reiche
Maria Reiche
Maria Reiche was a German-born mathematician, archaeologist, and technical translator who is most well-regarded for her research in the Nazca lines in Peru, beginning in 1940. She helped educate people about the resource and gain government recognition and preservation of the property...

's protege Phillis Pitluga, an astronomer at the Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum, believes, based on computer-aided studies of star alignments, that the giant spider figure is an anamorphic
Anamorphosis
Anamorphosis or anamorphism may refer to any of the following:*Anamorphosis, in art, the representation of an object as seen, for instance, altered by reflection in a mirror...

 diagram of the constellation Orion
Orion (constellation)
Orion, often referred to as The Hunter, is a prominent constellation located on the celestial equator and visible throughout the world. It is one of the most conspicuous, and most recognizable constellations in the night sky...

. She further suggests that three of the straight lines leading to the figure were used to track the changing declinations of the three stars of Orion's Belt
Orion's Belt
The term Orion's Belt or the Belt of Orion may refer to:* Orion's Belt, an asterism consisting of three bright stars in a row in the constellation Orion* Orion's Belt, a 1985 film* Orion's Belt, a browser game...

 but does not take into account the other twelve lines. Dr. Anthony F. Aveni has commented on her work, saying:

I really had trouble finding good evidence to back up what she contended. Pitluga never laid out the criteria for selecting the lines she chose to measure, nor did she pay much attention to the archaeological data Clarkson and Silverman had unearthed. Her case did little justice to other information about the coastal cultures, save applying, with subtle contortions, Urtons representations of constellations from the highlands. As historian Jacquetta Hawkes
Jacquetta Hawkes
Jacquetta Hawkes was a British archaeologist.Born Jessie Jacquetta Hopkins, the daughter of Nobel Prize-winning scientist, Sir Frederick Gowland Hopkins, she married first Christopher Hawkes, then an Assistant Keeper at the British Museum, in 1933. From 1953, she was married to J. B. Priestley...

 might ask: was she getting the pampa she desired?

Environmental concerns


People trying to preserve the Nazca Lines are concerned about threats of pollution
Pollution
Pollution is the introduction of contaminants into a natural environment that causes instability, disorder, harm or discomfort to the ecosystem i.e. physical systems or living organisms. Pollution can take the form of chemical substances or energy, such as noise, heat or light...

 and erosion
Erosion
Erosion is when materials are removed from the surface and changed into something else. It only works by hydraulic actions and transport of solids in the natural environment, and leads to the deposition of these materials elsewhere...

 caused by deforestation
Deforestation
Deforestation is the removal of a forest or stand of trees where the land is thereafter converted to a nonforest use. Examples of deforestation include conversion of forestland to farms, ranches, or urban use....

 in the region.

The Lines themselves are superficial, they are only 10 to 30 cm deep and could be washed away... Nazca has only ever received a small amount of rain. But now there are great changes to the weather all over the world. The Lines cannot resist heavy rain without being damaged.
– Viktoria Nikitzki of the Maria Reiche
Maria Reiche
Maria Reiche was a German-born mathematician, archaeologist, and technical translator who is most well-regarded for her research in the Nazca lines in Peru, beginning in 1940. She helped educate people about the resource and gain government recognition and preservation of the property...

 Centre


After flooding and mudslides in the area in mid-February 2007, Mario Olaechea Aquije, archaeological resident from Peru's National Institute of Culture
National Institute of Culture
The National Institute of Culture of Peru is a government organization under the authority of the Ministry of Education. Its headquarters are located in the city of Lima and its rector is Cecilia Bákula.-Objectives:...

, and a team of specialists surveyed the area. He said, "[T]he mudslides and heavy rains did not appear to have caused any significant damage to the Nazca Lines," but the nearby Southern Pan-American Highway
Pan-American Highway
The Pan-American Highway is a network of roads measuring about in total length. Except for an rainforest break, called the Darién Gap, the road links the mainland nations of the Americas in a connected highway system. According to Guinness World Records, the Pan-American Highway is the world's...

 did suffer damage, and "the damage done to the roads should serve as a reminder to just how fragile these figures are."

Images



See also

  • Iperu, tourist information and assistance
    Iperu, tourist information and assistance
    Iperú, Tourist Information and Assistance, or simply iperú is the free tourism office provided by the Peruvian government through the Commission for the Promotion of Export and Tourism Peru and the National Institute for Defense Competition and Protection of...

  • Tourism in Peru
    Tourism in Peru
    Tourism in Peru make up the nation's third largest industry, behind fishing and mining. Tourism is directed towards archeological monuments, ecotourism in the Peruvian Amazon, cultural tourism in colonial cities, gastronomic tourism, adventure tourism, and beach tourism. According to a Peruvian...

  • Maria Reiche
    Maria Reiche
    Maria Reiche was a German-born mathematician, archaeologist, and technical translator who is most well-regarded for her research in the Nazca lines in Peru, beginning in 1940. She helped educate people about the resource and gain government recognition and preservation of the property...

  • Marilyn Bridges
    Marilyn Bridges
    Marilyn Bridges is an American photographer noted for her aerial photographs of ancient and modern landscapes of extraordinary and often religious sites....

  • Simone Waisbard
    Simone Waisbard
    Simone Waisbard was a French explorer who spent years in South and Central America, studying remnants of the many ancient civilizations and tribes that have lived there. She is the author of two books: Tiahuanaco and Les Pistes de Nazca....

  • List of archaeoastronomical sites sorted by country

Further reading


External links