Nasca Lines

nazfig2In the Peruvian desert, about 200 miles south of the capital – Lima – there lies a plain between the Inca and Nasca valleys. Across this plain, in an area measuring 37 miles long and 1 mile wide, is an assortment of perfectly straight lines, many running parallel, others intersecting, forming a grand geometric form. In and around the lines there are also trapezoidal zones, strange symbols, and pictures of birds and beasts all etched on a giant scale that can only be appreciated from the sky.
The figures come in two types: biomorphs and geoglyphs. The biomorphs are some 70 animal and plant figures that include a spider, hummingbird, monkey and a 1,000-foot-long pelican. The biomorphs are grouped together in one area on the plain. Some archaeologists believe they were constructed around 200 B.C., about 500 years before the geoglyphs.
There are about 900 geoglyphs on the plain. Geoglyphs are geometric forms that include straight lines, triangles, spirals, circles and trapezoids. They are enormous in size. The longest straight line goes nine miles across the plain.
The forms are so difficult to see from the ground that they were not discovered until the 1930’s when aircraft, when surveying for water, spotted them. The plain, crisscrossed, by these giant lines with many forming rectangles, has a striking resemblance to a modern airport. The Swiss writer, Erich von Daniken, even suggested they had been built for the convenience of ancient visitors from space to land their ships. As tempting as it might be to subscribe to this theory, the desert floor at Nasca is soft earth and loose stone, and would not support the landing wheels of either an aircraft or a flying saucer.
The Nasca lines were created by clearing the darkened pampa stones to either side and exposing the lighter sand underneath.
So why are the lines there? The American explorer Paul Kosok, who made his first visit to Nasca in the 1940s, suggested that the lines were astronomically significant and that the plain acted as a giant observatory. He called them “the largest astronomy book in the world.” Gerald Hawkins, an American astronomer, tested this theory in 1968 by feeding the position of a sample of lines into a computer and having a program calculate how many lines coincided with an important astronomical event. Hawkins showed the number of lines that were astronomically significant were only about the same number that would be the result of pure chance. This makes it seem unlikely Nasca is an observatory.
Perhaps the best theory for the lines and symbols belongs to Tony Morrison, the English explorer. By researching the old folk ways of the people of the Andes mountains, Morrison discovered a tradition of wayside shrines linked by straight pathways. The faithful would move from shrine to shrine praying and meditating. Often the shrine was as simple as a small pile of stones. Morrison suggests that the lines at Nasca were similar in purpose and on a vast scale. The symbols may have served as special enclosures for religious ceremonies.
How were they built? Straight lines can be made easily for great distances with simple tools. Two wooden stakes placed as a straight line would be used to guide the placement of a third stake along the line. One person would sight along the first two stakes and instructs a second person in the placement of the new stake. This can be repeated as many times as needed to make an almost perfectly-straight line miles in length. The symbols were probably made by drawing the desired figure at some reasonable size, then using a grid system to divide it up. The symbol could then be redrawn at full scale by recreating the grid on the ground and working on each individual square one at a time.
Recently two researchers, David Johnson and Steve Mabee, have advanced a theory that the geoglyphs may be related to water. The Nasca plain is one of the driest places on Earth, getting less than one inch of rain a year. Johnson, while looking for sources of water in the region, noticed that ancient aqueducts, called puquios, seemed to be connected with some of the lines. Johnson thinks that the shapes may be a giant map of the underground water sources traced on the land. Mabee is working to gather evidence that might confirm this theory.
Other scientists are more skeptical, but admit that in a region where finding water was vital to survival, there might well be some connection between the ceremonial purpose of the lines and water. Johan Reinhard, a cultural anthropologist with the National Geographic Society, found that villagers in Bolivia walk along a straight pathway to shrines while praying and dancing for rain. Something similar may have been done at the ancient Nasca lines.
850 miles south of the Nasca plain is the largest human figure in the world laid out upon the side of Solitary Mountain. The Giant of Atacama stands 393 feet high and is surrounded by lines similar to those at Nasca.
Along the Pacific Coast in the foothills of the Andes Mountains is etched a figure resembling a giant candelabrum. Further south, Sierra Pintada, which means “the painted mountain” in Spanish, is covered with vast pictures including spirals, circles, warriors and a condor. Archaeologists speculate that these figures, clearly visible from the ground, served as guideposts for Inca traders.


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