What is the mystery behind the ancient Nazca lines?

Monitoring Desk

The massive Nazca lines were made by ancient people 2000 years ago and continue to exist without any damages to date. No one has been able to fully explain the meaning of these lines

Imagine yourself soaring in the high desert skies of southern Peru on a plane. What you expect to see is probably the dull pale sameness of the rocks and sands. But there is much more in this region than that. A 2,000-year-old mystery lies in the country’s landscape with massive shapes called the Nazca lines that come into view from the air. 

The lines are discovered in a region of Peru just over 200 miles southeast of Lima, close to the modern town of Nasca. In total, there are over 800 straight lines, 300 geometric figures and 70 animal and plant designs which are called biomorphs. Some of the straight lines go up to 30 miles, while the biomorphs vary from 50 to 1200 feet in length, meaning as large as the Empire State Building. 

They are most famous for representing animals and plants like a spider, hummingbird, cactus plant, monkey, whale, llama, duck, flower, tree, lizard and dog. 

But perhaps the most unusual one is the drawing of a humanoid figure nicknamed ‘The Astronaut” with its hands and some unidentifiable depictions. 

Anthropologists believe that the ancient people designed the shapes by removing 12-15 inches of rock and digging deep to reveal the lighter-coloured sand below to make the figures visible in the region covered in a layer of iron oxide-coated pebbles.
Anthropologists believe that the ancient people designed the shapes by removing 12-15 inches of rock and digging deep to reveal the lighter-coloured sand below to make the figures visible in the region covered in a layer of iron oxide-coated pebbles. (Getty Images)

According to scientists, the lines were created by the Nasca people, who flourished from around A.D. 1 to 700. The Chavin and Paracas cultures who lived before The Nazca people may have also drawn some of the geoglyphs.  

Anthropologists believe that the ancient people designed the shapes by removing 12-15 inches of rock and digging deep to reveal the lighter-coloured sand below to make the figures visible in the region covered in a layer of iron oxide-coated pebbles. Presumably, they started with small scale figures and then increased their dimensions.

But what is the purpose of these lines? This question has been waiting to be answered for over 80 years.

Then, you might ask if they’ve been around for so long why have they only been studied for 80 years? Well, the lines were able to get widespread attention when pilots flew over them with their planes in the 1930s. Before that, no one could identify the shapes from ground level and know about this mystery. 

Why are there Nazca lines?… Anything to do with aliens?

In the late 1930s, American historian Paul Kosok began to investigate the lines both from the ground and air. Based on the relative location of one of the lines to the sun around the winter solstice, he assumed that the geoglyphs had an astronomy-based purpose. For him, the 310 square miles high desert is the ”largest astronomy book in the world.”

Following Kosok, in the 1940s, a German archaeologist Maria Reiche who is known as ”the Lady of the Lines” due to her 40 years of investigation, agreed that the lines had an astronomical and calendrical meaning. According to Reiche, some animal geoglyphs were representing groups of stars in the sky.

Another theory that stood out from the others and attracted great attention was from A Swedish writer named Erich von Daniken who claimed in his book called ”Chariots of the Gods?” (1968) that these lines were a landing site for UFOs and the ancient people considered extraterrestrials as “alien gods”. Other alien-related theories suggest similar assumptions saying that the shapes were made by aliens and were used to steer their spaceships and as landing pads. 

In the late 1960s, however, other researchers, including American astronomer Gerald Hawkins studied the Nazca lines and opposed the astronomical and alien-related explanations. 

More recent investigations suggested a very important factor by analysing the structure and ecology of the region that seems to be the closest to the purpose of the Nazca lines.

“Look at the large ecological system, what’s around Nazca, where were the Nazca people located,” said Johan Reinhard, a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence.

He refers to the arid climate of the region that receives only about 20 minutes of rain per year. 

While this arid climate explains how these shapes came to this period without any damage, it also reveals an important insight into the purpose of the Nasca lines…the need for water.

“It seems likely that most of the lines did not point at anything on the geographical or celestial horizon, but rather led to places where rituals were performed to obtain water and fertility of crops,” wrote Reinhard in his book The Nasca Lines: A New Perspective on their Origin and Meanings.

Looking at the meaning of these symbols in the Peruvian ancient age, it displays that spiders are believed to be a token of rain,
Looking at the meaning of these symbols in the Peruvian ancient age, it displays that spiders are believed to be a token of rain, (Getty Images)

The Nazca people most probably were doing rituals to plead for water from their gods. Perhaps, the lines were made that large to make their gods see them and to show them their desperate need for water as a message through the shapes. 

According to Reinhard, animal symbols and spiral themes that can be seen in the shapes were common in other ancient Peruvian sites. 

Looking at the meaning of these symbols in the Peruvian ancient age, it displays that spiders are believed to be a token of rain, hummingbirds are linked with fertility, and monkeys are associated with their location in the Amazon, the place with affluence of water.

Moreover, the hummingbird, which draws attention among the shapes, seems to confirm this thesis. Hummingbirds are known to live in tropical areas close to the equator, the regions where it rains for hours a day, not 20 minutes a year. 

“No single evaluation proves a theory about the lines, but the combination of archaeology, ethnohistory, and anthropology builds a solid case,” said Reinhard. 

Water is the source of life as well as the source of change. Maybe that’s what the people living there wanted to say.  They wanted the desert they lived in to change by giving messages. 

And perhaps, what they desired was access to water, the same thing that we may lack in the future due to global warming- disrupted weather patterns.

Courtesy: TRT World

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