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Nazca Lines on the Southern Peruvian Coast

Etched on the dry grounds of the Pampa de Nazca in the southern Peruvian plain thousands of years ago, the Nazca lines continue to be a source of fascination for scholars and tourists alike. According to the Biblical Timeline Poster with World History, they are dated back to 200 BC. These lines were known to the local people for many years but research about how and why these lines were made only started in the late 1920s after commercial flights started to pass the Peruvian airspace.

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Simple Lines and Geoglyphs

The area covers a total of 220 sq km and bounded by the Ingenio River on the north and the Nazca River on the southern portion. The foothills of the Andean mountain range rise on the eastern portion while the wide expanse of the Pacific bounds the plain on the west. The Nazca people, who lived thousands of years ago in this desert, removed the top portion of the rocky ground and exposed the lighter sand underneath it. They carved more than just straight lines on the ground. Geometric shapes and figures of plants, as well as animals, can be seen from above.

The straight lines radiate from a common connecting point—a hill, usually—and lead to oases on the plain. These lines outnumber the geometric shapes (geoglyphs) with one of the longest measured up to 20 km. Around 300 geoglyphs were etched on the desert and follow the straight lines when it comes to numbers. These geometric shapes include trapezoids, rectangles, and triangles, as well as concentric rays and spirals. Some of the biggest geometric shapes reached as far as to 1300 feet by 130 feet.


Fascinating plant and animal forms (biomorphs) were etched on the dry plain. A fish, a dog, and a spider, as well as a number of birds, were among the animals carved on the ground. The species of birds include a hummingbird, a condor, and a frigatebird which can be clearly seen from above. A killer whale and a monkey (only found in the Peruvian Amazon) were also among those etched on this vast plain.

Mysterious Origins

No one knows exactly why the Nazca people made these lines and geoglyphs. For Maria Reiche, the German-born archeologist, the Nazca lines were observatories for constellations that marked the time for the ancient people to sow and harvest. Although this explanation fell out of use in recent years, Maria Reiche is still honored in Peru for her efforts in the research and preservation of the Nazca lines.

Professor and explorer Johan Reinhard, also offered another explanation for the purpose of the Nazca lines. He suggested that the lines were used for fertility and agricultural rituals as shown by the symbolism of the animal figures that were carved on the ground. For example, the hummingbird, spider, and monkey were all connected to fertility and rain for the ancient Nazca. Other explanations for its purpose include its uses to indicate underground water sources, an astronomical calendar, a place for ancient Nazca rituals, and an alien landing strip.

The severe lack of rain and wind helped preserve the Nazca lines. Maria Reiche did much to publicize these geological wonders and helped preserve them by hiring guards through profits from her book The Mystery of the Desert first published in 1949. Today, squatters, tourists, and floods pose a greater threat to the preservation of Peru’s ancient heritage than the sun and heat.

CC BY-SA 2.5 es,
Aron, Paul. Mysteries in History: From Prehistory to the Present. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2005
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