The Nazca Lines
Mystery Casebook Nazca Lines

The Nazca Lines are a series of geoglyphs located in the Nazca Desert, a high arid plateau that stretches 53 miles or more than 80 kilometers between the towns of Nazca and Palpa on the Pampas de Jumana in Peru. They were created by the Nazca culture between 200 BC and AD 700. There are hundreds of individual figures, ranging in complexity from simple lines to stylized hummingbirds, spiders, monkeys and lizards.

The Nazca lines cannot be recognized as coherent figures except from the air. Since it is presumed the Nazca people could never have seen their work from this vantage point, there has been much speculation on the builders' abilities and motivations.

Building and preserving the lines

The lines were made by fusing the iron oxide coated pebbles which cover the surface of the Nazca desert. When the gravel is removed, they contrast with the light-colored earth underneath. There are several hundred simple lines and geometric patterns on the Nazca plateau, as well as over seventy curvilinear animal, insect, and human figures. The area encompassing the lines is nearly 500 square kilometers (200 square miles), and the largest figures can be nearly 900 feet (270 meters) long. The lines persist due to the extremely dry, windless, and constant climate of the Nazca region: the Nazca desert is one of the driest on Earth and maintains a temperature around 25°C (77°F) year round, and the lack of wind has helped keep the lines uncovered to the present day and possibly the future.

Theories

Creators and techniques

Since their discovery, various theories have been proposed regarding the methods and motivations underlying the lines' construction. The archaeological explanation as to who made them and how is widely accepted; namely that the Nazca people made the lines using simple tools and surveying equipment. Wooden stakes in the ground at the end of some lines (which were used to carbon-date the figures) and ceramics found on the surface support this theory. Furthermore, researchers such as Joe Nickell of the University of Kentucky, have reproduced the figures using the technology available to the Nazca Indians of the time without aerial supervision. With careful planning and simple technologies, a small team of individuals could recreate even the largest figures within a couple of days.

Reasons

However, there is less existing evidence concerning why the figures were built, so the Nazca people's motivation remains the lines' most persistent mystery. Many scholars believe that their motivation was religious, making images that only gods in the sky could see clearly. Kosok and Reiche advanced one of the earliest reasons given for the Nazca Lines: that they were intended to point to the places on the distant horizon where the Sun and other celestial bodies rose or set. This hypothesis was evaluated by two different experts in archaeoastronomy, Gerald Hawkins and Anthony Aveni, and they both concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support an astronomical explanation.

In 1985, the archaeologist Johan Reinhard published archaeological, ethnographic, and historical data demonstrating that worship of mountains and other water sources played a dominant role in Nazca religion and economy from ancient to recent times. He presented the theory that the lines and figures can be explained as part of religious practices involving the worship of deities associated with the availability of water and thus the fertility of crops. The lines were interpreted as being primarily used as sacred paths leading to places where these deities could be worshiped and the figures as symbolically representing animals and objects meant to invoke their aid. However, the precise meanings of many of the individual geoglyphs remain unsolved.

Mystery Casebook This glyph is one of the more complex Nazca figures.Another theory involves the work of David Johnson. Johnson has researched the Nazca Lines and their apparent connection with underground waterways. Johnson allegedly used dowsing to track these water tunnels, claiming that the lines indicate whether the ground contains water or not. The areas with the most geoglyphs are purportedly centered around areas with high amounts of underground water and are usually close to wells and other on-land water sources. A suggestion Johnson makes is the fact that the inhabitants living in such a dry land would spend a significant portion of their time searching for water sources. By creating a giant, full-scale map they would know exactly where to find their water no matter what area of the desert they were in. The geoglyphs would then be religious figures for the gods or names given for each water source. That being said, this information should be taken with a lot of care since Johnson used the very unscientific method of dowsing to locate the purported watering holes.

Notwithstanding Gerald Hawkins' and Anthony Aveni's dismissal of an astronomical explanation of the Nazca Lines and geoglyphs, eclipsologist Robin Edgar has theorized that the Nazca Lines, particularly the biomorph geoglyphs that depict animals, human figures, birds and "flowers" are almost certainly an ancient response to the so-called "Eye of God" that is manifested in the sky during a total solar eclipse. An unusual series of total solar eclipses over southern Peru coincided with the time period during which the Nazca Lines and geoglyphs were created. The totally eclipsed sun distinctly resembles the pupil and iris of a gigantic eye looking down from the sky thus providing an explanation as to why the Nazca Indians created gigantic geoglyph artworks that are best viewed by an "Eye in the Sky".

Some (for example Jim Woodmann) have proposed that the Nazca lines presuppose some form of manned flight (in order to see them) and that a hot air balloon was the only possible available technology. Woodmann actually made a hot air balloon from materials and using techniques that would have been available to people at the time in order to test this hypothesis. The balloon flew (after a fashion) demonstrating that this hypothesis was possible, but there is no hard evidence either way.

Another theory contends that the lines are the remains of "walking temples," where a large group of worshipers walked along a preset pattern dedicated to a particular holy entity, similar to the practice of labyrinth walking. Residents of the local villages say the ancient Indians conducted rituals on these giant drawings to thank the gods and to ensure that water would continue to flow from the Andes. This view correlates with the purposes of other North American geoglyphs.

Also, according to a recent hypothesis from Michael Vaillant, conductors under the form of very slim gold or copper leafs would have been stretched on the ground. These conductors would have been used as antennas to collect the very low frequencies magnetotelluric waves produced in certain seismographic areas, and that occurred a few hours (or days) before the seisms. This hypothesis relies on a controversial theory named as "SES" (Seismic Electric Signals).

The Nazca lines would be the traces of the place where these conductors would have been set down, but also of the numerous tests that would have been done and to find "suitable positions" to collect EM field and depending of local geology.

This could signify that this site would have served to protect life as an oracle with whom the Nazcans would have been able to speak to the "gods of the mountains". Indeed, such worship has been charted by Johan Reinhard according to which the mountain-gods took to the skies in the form of eagles or condors. Actually, a condor and several other birds are drawn on the site, on the border of the long lines drawn.

Perhaps the most controversial theory was put forward by Erich von Däniken in his book Chariots of the Gods, who proposed that the lines were in fact landing strips for alien spacecraft. His argument is similar to Woodmann's, claiming that the designs are so large and complex that they could only have been constructed using flying machines.

Environmental concerns

According to Viktoria Nikitzki of the Maria Reiche Centre, an organization dedicated to protecting the Nazca Lines, pollution and erosion caused by deforestation threaten the continued existence of the Nazca lines. She is quoted as saying "The Lines themselves are superficial, they are only 10 to 30cm deep and could be washed away... Nazca has only ever received a small amount of rain. But now there are great changes to the weather all over the world. The Lines cannot resist heavy rain without being damaged." However, Mario Olaechea Aquije, the archaeological resident from Peru's National Institute of Culture in Nazca, Peru, and a team of specialists surveyed the area after the flooding and mudslides occurring in the area in mid-February of 2007. He announces that "the mudslides and heavy rains did not appear to have caused any significant damage to the Nazca Lines," but that the nearby Southern Panamerican Highway did suffer damage, and "the damage done to the roads should serve as a reminder to just how fragile these figures are."

Source & References:

Nazca linesAveni, Anthony F. (ed.) (1990). The Lines of Nazca. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society. ISBN 0-87169-183-3

Aveni, Anthony F. (2000). Between the Lines. Austin Texas: University of Texas Press. ISBN 0-292-70496-8

Lambers, Karsten (2006). The Geoglyphs of Palpa, Peru: Documentation, Analysis, and Interpretation. Lindensoft Verlag, Aichwald/Germany. ISBN 3-929290-32-4

Reinhard, Johan (1996) (6th ed.) The Nazca Lines: A New Perspective on their Origin and Meaning. Lima: Los Pinos. ISBN 84-89291-17-9

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