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The Enduring Mystery of the Nazca Lines

Mamerto Adan is a feature writer who is back in college once again. Science is one of his favorite topics.


It’s easy to dismiss something as a work of the supernatural if it’s awesome enough. As some people believed, humans could only achieve so far. Not in a thousand years of written history could man build vast structures, mind blowing artworks, or anything unless they got the assistance of someone more capable. I mean, humans are too puny to build the Great Pyramids, right?

But not so fast, as skeptics point out. Humans might be flesh and bones, but that doesn’t mean we can do the seemingly impossible. Surviving up to this day and coming up with technologies to build the civilized world is a mind-blowing achievement. That’s why there are reasons to doubt if people pointed out that some ancient wonders aren’t made by humans. We could consider their point that people back then don’t have the means to produce impressive feats of engineering. Possibly, our ancestors have extra hands to help them. Someone coming from another world.

Like those vast artworks across Peru that baffled mankind and inspired a genre of ancient astronaut theories.

Those mysterious lines known as the Nazca lines, the monumental sketches of figures stretching in the fields of Peru seems to be too much for the ancient people to make. At the same time, no one is sure what they are for. The mystery then leads some people to consider far-out answers, though skeptics felt that the explanations are more down to earth.


Pedro Cieza de Leon mistook the lines for trail markers.

Pedro Cieza de Leon mistook the lines for trail markers.

I cannot say that it was discovered. After all, it was always there all along, while the generations of natives knew of its existence. Nevertheless in 1553, Pedro Cieza de Leon mentioned this in his book, and he mistook the Nazca lines for trail markers. Luis Monzon on the other hand mistook it as remains of roads in 1586. And in 1927, Peruvian archeologist Toribio Mejia Xesspe spotted them while he was hiking.

The first historian that really took the mysterious lines seriously and studied them was Paul Kosok from Long Island University. While studying irrigations in Peru during the 1940s, he realized how the Nazca lines form a bird shape. He then began to study how the humongous lines was created, and this time he was joined in by another archeologist Richard P Schnaedel and Maria Reiche. They proposed that the Nazca Lines might be one vast celestial indicator, which point out where the heavenly bodies will rise on significant dates.

There are also several theories on the purpose of the Lines, including the notoriously outrageous claim made by Erich von Daniken. Yet, explaining how they made is another matter. And as the years passed by, new Nazca figures was discovered, like what the Japanese team from the Yamagata University reported. This time, the lines form a human head, while the other is an animal.

The Nazca Lines

Lines forming a bird.

Lines forming a bird.

Most of the lines are simply straight lines that cuts across the landscape. But some form intricate figures of animals and plants. As we all know, these lines aren’t small sketches on the ground. Even simple lines could stretch for more than a kilometer, while geoglyphs (the term for vast Nazca Line figures) range from 0.4 to 1.1 kilometers. If one will combine the length of each lines, it will cover an area of 50 square kilometers. On the ground up close, the lines are less spectacular. In fact, they are barely visible, and a typical etched line is only 4 to six-inch-deep and one foot wide. Some could be six feet wide.

To make the line, one must make a shallow depression by removing the reddish-brown topsoil (the iron oxide coated pebbles) to reveal the yellow subsoil underneath. The isolation of the place and the windless climate preserved the lines well, but the presence of squatters deteriorate the lines as of 2012.

From simple straight lines and geometric shapes, 70 of these lines form figures of hummingbird, jaguars, human, lizard, dog, monkey, llama, flowers and trees. The lines were created between 500 BCE and 500 CE.

Ancient Astronaut theories

Some lines seem to resemble runways.

Some lines seem to resemble runways.

Naturally, when one comes across any epic ancient achievements, it is easy to dismiss them as non-human made. After all, they are dated at 500 BCE and found in a location populated by only natives. These people never had access to any sort of tools or instruments to pull-off such vast artworks. And any forms of advance technologies were not available during that time. A mix of human imaginations, and uncontrollable creativity lead some people to seek other forms of explanations. And in the process, they came up with rather interesting, if not outrageous ideas.

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Enter Erich von Daniken, and his ancient astronaut theories.

In 1968, he published a book “Chariots of the Gods?” It proposes that early people met alien beings, which gave them access to technologies. He suggests that ancient structures and artefacts seems to indicate higher technological knowledge. Possibly, it was made by beings from another world, or humans with assistance from these visitors.

In the case of the Nazca Lines, he reckons that humans constructed them to copy previous alien structures as an attempt to call them back. I mean some Nazca lines do look like airport runways, and ancient humans could be preparing a landing strip for any UFO, right?

Then, there are the questions on how these monumental artworks were built. They are impossible to draw with stone age tools, and you won’t see them if you are not airborne.

As what’s expected, the ancient astronaut theories were universally panned by experts. And as recent studies suggest, the lines are not as alien as one like to think.

How They Were Made

Joe Nickell reproduced one geoglyph.

Joe Nickell reproduced one geoglyph.

Part of the reasoning of the ancient astronaut theories is that the artworks are too advance for the natives. This is in fact not true, as making them is not as hard as one might imagine.

Though the lines, especially complex ones could only be appreciated above, one never needed any flying machines to view them. The lines were constructed on hillsides, and one can see them by just climbing a hill. Archaeologists also found wooden stakes at the end of some lines, and scholars theorized that the Nazca people might have used simple tools and surveying equipment.

But how feasible is it to create vast artworks with such tools.

Again, one never needed energy beams or alien technologies to make the lines. Again, scraping away the topsoil was all it takes. Joe Nickell, a skeptic once demonstrated how it was possible to draw large figures on the ground with basic equipment available to the Nazca people. With only a small team and careful planning, he successfully recreated a figure in just a matter of days, without going airborne.

The Mystery Deepens

Demonstrating to the world that it was possible to easily recreate them is one thing. But explaining what they were for is the other. Yet there are various theories on the uses of the lines, each are within the culture of the natives.

The Paracas culture, predating the Nazca is considered the influencer of the development of the lines. As what was mentioned earlier, the geoglyphs may have acted like a giant observatory to indicate the position on where the heavenly bodies will rise and set in solstices. Possibly it was linked to the natives’ religious cosmology. Unfortunately, no evidence was made that supported the astronomical explanation, as experts Gerald Hawkins and Anthony Aveni pointed out. Maria Reiche suggested that they represented constellations, or heavenly shapes as what her protégé Maria Phullis Pitluga pointed out. The geoglyphs on the other hand may have served multiple purposes, like tracks to the irrigation, astronomical interpretations or mounds, as what was proposed by Albert Rossell Castro in 1977. Or what if they point to ritual sites like altars? As the land became more arid, rituals could be made by the Nazca civilization to summon water, and the lines could be used for this purpose.

For now, there are no clear explanations on what the lines are for. But with a good knowledge on how they are built, experts could assert on one sure thing.

They are not alien made.


Ryushin Malone on February 19, 2020:

You again... lol. Dude I solved the Nazca lines last year.

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