Most of us have watched a documentary or two on the Nazca Lines, perhaps on the National Geographic channel or through one of those over-dramatized programs such as ‘Believe it or Not’. It’s not until you view the lines and geoglyphs in situ that you can start to really appreciate these curious and ancient wonders.
The origins of the lines are still somewhat of a mystery, however television programs benefit from having us believe they were created by extra-terrestrials. After having spoken to a couple of locals, I’ve come a little closer to learning more about the truth of their origins.
It’s thought that the lines were etched into the arid desert plains sometime between 500 BC and 500 AD by the Nazcans – that’s over 1500 years old! They appear to have been created by clearing the ubiquitous red pebbles found over the vast desert, to reveal a lighter sand-like surface underneath (perhaps using large pieces of wood or stone). The fact they still exist is amazing, and have been preserved purely because of Nazca’s dry climate.
The sheer number of lines throughout the desert is remarkable; car tracks dating back to the early 20s can still be seen, creating a surface somewhat like an etch-a-sketch of lines and patterns. A few of the geoglyphs, including the ‘whale’ and the ‘dog’ actually have track marks from vehicles running directly through them – imprinted before anyone of recent times had made the discovery. The tracks in fact often engulf the lines, as surprisingly to me, the geoglyphs are not as big as I’d anticipated.
There are theories that the lines were created for astronomical significance, almost like a huge calendar that the Nazcans used to communicate with the gods. If I were to pick a favourite, I’d say the hummingbird is up there. It’s probably one of the most well-recognized of the geoglyphs and just has a certain beauty to its shape.
Another iconic figure is the monkey, who has only nine fingers. It’s thought that it was to mark the equinoxes, or a shift in the seasons.
The ‘hands’ also has only nine fingers – which is very curious. What sparked my interested, however, was learning that Maria Reich, the astronomer who discovered the lines, lost one of her fingers in an accident 20 years before finding the lines. She too, therefore, had only nine fingers. Was the significance of nine in fact a prediction from the ancient Nazcans; was Maria Reich actually chosen by the gods to make the discovery?
Eleanor Tan is a researcher and blogger for the Karikuy Volunteer Program in Lima, Peru.