The Nazca Lines, what is the mystery?

There are some great mysteries in the world, some we may never know that answers to, this is also true of the Nazca Lines. Located around 5 hours’ drive from the Peruvian Capital, Lima, in the middle of one of the driest deserts in the world, the Nazca Lines are a mystery that may never be solved. 

The Nazca Lines are a collection of giant geoglyphs—designs or motifs etched into the ground, created by the ancient Nazca culture in South America, and depicting various plants, animals, and shapes, the 2,000-year-old Nazca Lines can only be fully appreciated when viewed from the air given their massive size. Despite being studied for over 80 years, the geoglyphs—which were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994—are still a mystery to researchers.

There are three basic types of Nazca Lines: straight lines, geometric designs and pictorial representations.

There are more than 800 straight lines on the coastal plain, some of which are 30 miles (48 km) long. Additionally, there are over 300 geometric designs, which include basic shapes such as triangles, rectangles, and trapezoids, as well as spirals, arrows, zig-zags and wavy lines.

The Nazca Lines are perhaps best known for the representations of about 70 animals and plants, some of which measure up to 1,200 feet (370 meters) long. Examples include a spider, hummingbird, cactus plant, monkey, whale, llama, duck, flower, tree, lizard and dog.

The Nazca people also created other forms, such as a humanoid figure (nicknamed “The Astronaut”), hands and some unidentifiable depictions.

In 2011, a Japanese team discovered a new geoglyph that appears to represent a scene of decapitation, which, at about 4.2 meters long and 3.1 meters wide,  and is far smaller than other Nazca figures and not easily seen from aerial surveys. 

In 2016, the same team found another geoglyph, this time one that depicts a 98-foot-long (30-meter-long) mythical creature that has many legs and spotted markings, and is sticking out its tongue.

And in 2018, Peruvian archaeologists announced they had discovered more than 50 new geoglyphs in the region, using drone technology to map the landmarks in unprecedented detail.

As we all know, knowing with exact accuracy about things from the past is almost impossible and Scientists and Archaeologists can only guess as to the origin of some ancient ruins and artifacts, they do their best with the tools they have. However, Scientists  agree on how the Nazca Lines were made.

The lines are geoglyphs or drawings on the ground made by removing rocks and earth to create an image. The desert floor has weathered over thousands of years so when the upper rocks were removed they reveal a light sand colored rock, the light colored rock is how we see the lines. Because of the dry climate, the lines have been preserved for more than 500 to 2000 years. Scientists believe that the lines were made by the Nazca people, from around AD 10 to 700.

So what is the best way to see the famous Nazca Lines when you travel to Peru? There are only two options, the first option is the viewing tower, if you decide to only do the tower, you will climb up four flights of stairs to the top of the tower. From here, you can see at least two of the figures clearly, the hands and the trees from the viewing tower. This option is good if you do not like small planes or are scared of heights. This is also a good option if you are on a very tight budget and cannot afford the cost of the flight. Be aware that you should do this in the morning as the afternoon can get very windy making the tower very uncomfortable; entrance to the tower is around two soles plus a taxi out to the tower from Nazca, which is located just outside the town. The tower is a good option but you will not get the full view of the site.

The other option, which is more popular, is to buy a flight over the lines, buying a ticket on a small plane is the best option for those who want to see the full extent of the lines from the air. The flights generally last around thirty minutes but you get great views of the lines. However, be warned these flights are not for the faint of stomach, they can be a bit rough, especially when it is windy. The pilot will circle round and give both sides of the aircraft equal view of the lines, this causes nausea in some people.

The lines remained a secret until 1939 when a pilot flying over the desert saw the figures. Over the last few decades, many lines have been uncovered with around seventy that depict complex animals and other formations and others that are simple geometric shapes. 

The hot and dry climate of the area are the perfect conditions for preserving the lines and a layer of rich limestone further helps to protect the lines. Scientists believe that the lines were made by digging a four to six-inch trench in the dark upper stone and exposing the lighter stone underneath. A sandstorm in 2014 uncovered 2 new figures and scientists believe that in ancient times there were many more lines than we see today.

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