Etched into the barren rocky desert plains of Nazca, in the region of Ica, is a mystery yet to be solved. Stretching for miles, and only visible from the air, are a series of lines, geometric shapes and figures that are 2000 years old. Created by the Nazca civilisation, their true purpose has yet to be determined.
How they were made
The deserts plains that span the distances between the narrow green valleys of southern Ica are a barren place strewn with rocky debris. Under the baking hot sun, no plant life can be found here.
There were two techniques the Nazcans used in this hostile environment to create the lines and shapes.
One was to simply pick up each rock and throw it to the side, revealing the lighter coloured sand beneath.
Repeating this process over tens of kilometres in a straight line would create a path through the rocks.
To help define the lines when needed, the rocks removed would be placed on the border of the created path, with the darker outline providing more contrast.
It can only be guessed at as to how the lines were built so straight… perhaps by using pegs and ropes… but some of the largest lines are more than 10km long. The complicated geometric shapes are precision perfect, the spirals found – both separately and on the tails of monkey images – must have be measured expertly.
No one is sure how such huge shapes, not of which can be seen from ground level, could be created with such precision.
What they were for
Theories abound as to what these lines were for, and the people of Nazca today respect each of them. Here are some:
The ancient people of Nazca lived in a brutal desert with little water. They saw this as a punishment from the gods, who if they prayed to sufficiently would reward them with the life-giving substance. So, as part of their organised religion, they created huge images in the desert, figures of animals mostly from wetter parts of the world – parrots, pelicans, monkeys and sea creatures. These huge images were only meant for the eyes of their gods and so could only be seen from the air. – Local stories
The lines point to places on the horizon where the sun, and other stars, rise and set. The lines form part of a huge celestial calendar. Some lines match up exactly with the rising and setting sun on certain days of the year, noticeably at key times such as the winter solstice. Animal figures may represent constellations of stars, and lines that pass through them indicated as yet unknown key dates or events. The lines were a sun calendar and a huge observatory for astronomical cycles. – Maria Reiche
The lines reveal sources of water. It can be no coincidence that many of the lines or geometric shapes end or begin at the edges of fertile valleys, essentially pointing at them. They might reveal underground sources of water or be futile requests to the gods to make the river water spread out into the plains in the direction of the lines. – David Johnson and others
It is now agreed that the lines were walked along in some kind of ritual. Religious pottery has been found along the lengths of many of the lines, and a great number are interconnected, forming routes that could be taken for different purposes. The entire central plain where the majority of the lines are found could have been one huge open-air temple. The truth is, where the lines are found there are a number of underground water sources, many of the lines do match with positions of celestial objects, they can only be seen from the air, they were walked on and the Nazca people’s religion almost certainly did involve pleading for more water. When the gods didn’t grant it to them, they even went and got it themselves.
Great people have been trying to work out exactly how much of each theory was true, such as Dr. Paul Kosok and of course Maria Reiche. You can read more about them, the lines and more in upcoming posts.