Nazca (Peru) and the world-famous enigma of the lines

We didn't really know what to expect of Nazca. We had been travelling by luxury bus for around 5 hours through endless miles of sand and sand hills with the occasional view of small fertile areas and fruit sellers by the road side when we finally came down from one of the hills to a small desert town on a rock strewn plain. This was it? This world famous place which until the 1930's had been unknown to the outside world! A quick stroll around the town and we knew we wouldn't be spending long here! The usual Plaza de Armas was surrounded by tourist shops and restaurants. The Nazca lines lie about 20 km north of Nazca and cover an area of around 500 so it was obvious we weren't going to be able to see much on foot! Besides these lines can only be appreciated from above. So in for a penny……..we went early the next morning and booked ourselves on a flight over the lines.


The flight in itself was quite a stomach churning experience as we dipped and dived to see some of the huge geometric figures and animal drawings. The map on the right shows some of the animal designs we flew over. However these animals are not in isolation but criss-crossed by many geometric shapes and straight lines. These are just a few of the 800 straight lines, 300 geometric figures and 70 animal and plant drawings - amazing eh?




The Parrot overlapped with and joining various geometric lines                                      Straight Lines

The sheer number of geometric shapes, animal and plant drawings and straight lines is mind boggling and many theories exist as to the reason they were created: As gifts for ancient gods who could see the figures from above; A celestial calendar - some lines point directly to different stars at different times of the year so could be used for agricultural purposes; A map of underground water supplies – the Nazcas built a fantastic system of aqueducts. One theory even suggests landing strips for returning aliens – or maybe some were just done for fun by artists! The Nazca civilisation was around for about 1000 years from aroound 200BC to 600AD - and it was perhaps over this whole period that the different lines and figures were being created and drawn and maybe re-drawn as the different generations had different ideas. Many of them were made by removing the dark stones and piling them up on either side of the lines to expose the lighter coloured rock underneath. How we wondered, have the lines stayed as they were drawn all those years ago? A combination of the climate (one of the driest on Earth, with only twenty minutes of rainfall per year) and the flat, stony ground minimises the effect of the wind at ground level.


          A dog                                                                                    Monkey with complex tail which is one long line!

It is amazing to think that these shapes can only be appreciated from the air so how did they know what they were drawing? One of the most dedicated researchers of the lines was a German mathematician - Maria Reiche – her theory was that the lines were mapped out through the sophisticated use of mathematics and a long rope! She also thought they were done not only by the Nazcas but by the Paracas culture and added to by the Wari settlers in the 7th century.


        30 meter high Astronaut on hillside                                          Hummingbird joined to geometric shapes

Despite the very arid climate, the Nazcas grew many crops. They built an impressive system of aqueducts. The system was made up of underground channels, which tapped into the water beneath the surface. The channels were lined with river rocks and were dug into the mountainside until they reached the porous rocks under the surface. The water was then either transported to irrigation canals in order to directly supply water for agricultural purposes, or was deposited into small reservoirs for later use. Many of the channels remain in use today. Ironically it is thought that the Nazcas were probably wiped out by a catastrophic flood caused by El Nino!

                        Fertile area near Nazca           Hands – note 5 fingers on one and 4 on the other               Trapezoids


            Whale and dried up river bed                                 The Pan-American highway cuts through the lines

After our flight we took a local bus (about 30pence) to the Mirador look-out tower which lies next to the Pan-American highway, to see a couple more of the geoglyphs. The highway must have been built before UNESCO got involved as it cuts right through one of the designs!


                 Matt at the Mirador look out tower                                    Jean on the hill top looking at more lines

To end the day we went to a lecture in the local planetarium - by the end of which we were totally Nazca'd!!  But altogether a very interesting and thought provoking day! We just had time to eat at the very good restaurant - Encantado - before we caught the overnight bus to Arequipa.

Back to flotsam.............