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The Mysterious Nazca Lines

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Nazca Lines

Nazca Lines

The Nazca Lines are known as a series of giant geoglyphs. These are motifs or designs that are etched into the ground. The Nazca Lines are located approximately 250 miles south of the Peruvian capital Lima in a coastal plain. They were made by the ancient South American Nazca culture. The Nazca Lines are 2,000 years old and form shapes such as animals, a variety of plants, and more. Only from the air can anyone truly realize their massive size. The Nazca lines have been studied by researchers for several decades. In 1994, they were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today, they are still considered a huge mystery.

Types of Nazca Lines

There are three different types of Nazca Lines. There are pictorial representations, straight lines as well as geometric designs. There are hundreds of straight lines. Some are more than 30 miles long. The Nazca lines consist of more than 300 geometric designs. This includes such shapes as wavy lines, triangles, zigzags, rectangles, spirals as well as arrows. They have gotten a lot of attention for their depiction of over 70 plants and animals. Some of these representations are over 1,200 feet long. They depict a dog, spider, lizard, hummingbird, tree, cactus, flower, monkey, flower, whale, duck, llama, and more.

Geoglyph called The Astronaut

Geoglyph called The Astronaut

Other Depictions

The Nazca people made other types of geoglyphs. There is a humanoid figure that is often referred to as the Astronaut. There are hands and other types of depictions that have not been able to be identified. A Japanese team discovered new geoglyphs in 2011. It is the scene of a decapitation. This was significantly smaller than other Nazca depictions and could not be easily seen from the sky.

Nazca Pottery

Nazca Pottery

Nazca Culture

It flourished from 100 BC to 800 AD. They produced a variety of ceramics, textiles as well as geoglyphs. They have been recognized for completing two large construction projects that would have required the coordination of large numbers of laborers. One is known as puquios. These are underground aqueducts designed to provide water for domestic purposes as well as irrigation. Dozens of them are still operating today. The other is the Nazca Lines. The Nazca society was divided into different social classes. The power and authority were with the military leaders and the priests. The members of the higher elements of society were able to organize their communities and determine ceremonial activities. They had no unified government. Their society consisted of a group of individual manors. These manors had the authority over their people. Nazca was a military and violent culture. They lived in fortified cities and many weapons filled their tombs.

Nazca Lines Hummingbird

Nazca Lines Hummingbird

Creation of Nazca Lines

Over 2,000 years ago two cultures, known as the Paracas and Chavin, were in existence before the Nazca Culture. Anthropologists believe these two cultures may have also been responsible for the creation of some of the geoglyphs. The desert plains of the Rio Grande de Nasca river basin are one of the driest places in the world. This is where the Nazca Lines are located. They span an area of over 185,000 acres. In this area, the desert floor has a layer of iron oxide-coated pebbles. They provide a deep rust color. The Nazca people would start a geoglyph by removing up to 15 inches of rock. This would expose the lighter-colored sand beneath it. It has been speculated by some scientists that they may have started with a small-scale model of a geoglyph and increased the proportions until they had a large design. Some of them were made by removing only rocks from the border of the figures. This would create an outline. Others were made by removing rocks from the interior of the earth.

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Maria Reiche German archeologist

Maria Reiche German archeologist


Many scientists throughout the years have provided theories as to the purpose of the Nazca Lines. In 1926, an archeologist from Peru named Toribio Mejia Xesspe began to systematically study the lines. The geoglyphs obtained worldwide attention during the 1930s. This is when pilots flew over them. In the early 1940s, the geoglyphs were studied by an American historian named Paul Kosok. He studied them from the ground and also the air. He observed the position of some of the lines to the sun around the winter solstice. Kosok concluded there was an astronomy-related reason for the geoglyphs. Maria Reiche was a German archeologist. She concluded the geoglyphs served a calendrical purpose as well as an astronomical one. Reiche also believed some of the animals depicted in the geoglyphs could be representations of groups of stars in the night sky.

Ritual to the Gods

Some researchers, who have recently studied the Nazca Lines, suggest their purpose may have been related to water. It is something very valuable in this part of the Peruvian coastal plains. They are not suggesting the geoglyphs were used to find water or for irrigation. Some believe they could have been used as part of a ritual to the gods. It was a way for them to try to get rain. Scholars point out animal depictions can be symbols for rain as well as fertility and water. These symbols have been discovered on pottery at other ancient Peruvian sites.

Since their discovery, the Nazca Lines have been acknowledged for their distinct lines and recognizable images. They became especially impressive when commercial aviation made it possible for people to fly over the massive geoglyphs and fully see them. Today, archeologists, geophysicists, historians, and travelers continue to wonder what the lines mean and why the Nazca people spent so much time and energy making them. Nobody knows how the Nazca people could create such large and accurate geoglyphs, being unable to see them from the sky. Speculation has covered everything from roads to landing strips for extra-terrestrials, and more.




National Geographic


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