The Nazca Lines

The Nazca Lines are located in the Nazca Desert, a high arid plateau about 250 miles south of Lima, the capital of Peru.  

The total area of the desert is about 280 square miles.  Within the desert is about 300 figures made up of straight lines and geometric shapes.  In addition there are about 50 figures that represent living things such as a bird, a snake, a whale, a man, etc.  One of these lines is almost 40 miles long and some of the animal drawings are almost 200 yards long!

Below is a map showing some of the examples of the figures. 

(1) Killer Whale (2) Wing (3) Baby Condor
(4) Bird (5) Animal (6) Spiral
(7) Lizard (8) Tree (9) Hands
(10) Spiral (11) Spider (12) Flower
(13) Dog (14) Astronaut (15) Triangle
(16) Whale (17) Trapezoids (18) Star
(19) Pelican (20) Bird (21) Trapezoid
(22) Hummingbird (23) Trapezoid (24) Monkey

These figures which range in size from 82 feet to 820 feet are only in a small portion of the desert.  Most of the desert area has 800 miles of perfectly straight lines, some as narrow as six inches and some as wide as 100 yards.


The Nazca Indians

The Nazca Lines were thought to have been made by the Nazca Indians who lived in the area from between 300 B.C. to 800 A.D.  The reason archeologists think this is because they found pieces of Nazca pottery in the some of the lines. 

The Nazca Indians were farmers who came before the Inca Indians.  They did not have any written language and there are no Nazca Indians living today.  But from the pictures on their pottery archeologists have learned a lot about the Nazca Indians, including how they farmed and that they worshipped deities.  They also paid special attention to their dead, placing them in graves wrapped in beautiful cloths. 

Nazca Sunbird

Nazca Winged Serpent

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The Nazca Desert

The Nazca Desert is perfectly suited for not only drawing lines, but also for being able to preserve the drawings.  The ground is flat and stony.  There is hardly any rain and as such there is little dust or sand.  The area underneath the ground is a lighter color than the pebbles on top.  As such there is a strong contrast when the surface is scratched.  In fact after making one of their own little Nazca figure, to demonstrate how it could be done, archeologist had to be careful to restore the area.  Otherwise the figure would have remained there for hundreds or thousands of years, confusing future archeologists.


Why the Figures and Lines?

It might be easier to explain the figures that represent living things, rather than the geometric shapes or the lines.  It is known that the Nazca Indians worshipped gods.  it would make sense that they would make these "drawings" of such a size that the gods would be able to see them from the sky.  As they were farmers, they would want to keep pleasing the gods so that they could continue to grow their crops.  Although the area does not get much rainfall, there was plenty of water running underground from the mountains.  They were able to make channels to get this water to their crops, and they did not want the gods to "shut-off" their water.

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The Figures

Some of the figures represent animals and it is easy enough to think why the Nazca Indians may have drawn them.  They could have worshipped the animals much like other ancient civilizations.  They could have just represented them, to the "gods" above, as animals that existed in the area.  Some of the drawings are below.


This is a hummingbird

This is a spider (in the lower left)

A close up of the same spider


But at least one creature has scientists a little baffled and there is also the drawing of the astronaut....

The Strange Man and the Astronaut

In one section of the desert is the drawing of man.  You can see him in the upper left hand of the above picture.  It would make sense that the Nazca Indians might draw a picture of a man, but what is puzzling scientist and archeologists can be seen more clearly in the close-up below.


Have you discovered what is different about this man?  If you count the number of fingers on the hand that is on your right there are four fingers and one thumb, which is the same on a normal human hand.  However, the hand that it one your left contains only three figures and one thumb.  Why the difference?

And then of course there is the astronaut...


The Astronaut

Unlike the other drawings this appears on the side of a hill rather than on the desert. 

Here you can see him in the center of the picture.

This is a closer picture

Different angle


He is referred to as the Astronaut because it looks like he has a "space helmut" on his head.  But, perhaps it is just a representation of a Nazca Indian wearing a mask.  Or maybe it is, as some people believe a representation of a visitor from a long time ago.  Which is brings us to the lines that were also drawn by the Nazca Indians.

The Lines in the Desert

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The Nazca Lines have remained a mystery since they were "discovered" in the 1920's.  At that time airplanes began flying over the desert and people were able to see the lines and the figures.  Before that time people had known about the lines and figures, but they really could not appreciate the greatness of them until they were viewed from the air.

What are the reason for the lines? There are many theories.  The most famous person to study the lines was Maria Reiche who was a German mathematician and archeologist. 


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Ms. Reiche theory is that the lines had something to do with an astrological calendar.  This calendar, Ms. Reiche said, helped the Nazca Indians marked important events during the year, such as the arrival of Spring and also pointed to important stars.  Some other scientists have said that this is incorrect.  The reason is because it is difficult to determine exactly when the lines were created.  Since the earth is changing is shape the stars have changed position in the sky.  A computer program determined that only about 20% of the lines actually point towards the position of astrological symbols and stars that existed around the time of the lines. 

Perhaps the most important thing that Ms. Reiche did was to make the world aware of the Nazca Lines.  Had she not done so, they may have been destroyed. As it is a highway cuts the one of the drawings in half.  But now, the country of Peru realizes that the Nazca Lines are a national treasure and they have worked to make sure that they are not harmed.

Some Other Theories

There are many other theories as to the reason of the Nazca Lines.  Ms. Reiche had her own theory.  Some theories are that the lines are navigation paths.  One theory is that the lines and the figures have to do with marking underground water routes.  Another theory was that the lines marked landing strips for visitors from outer space.  This theory was made famous in the book "Chariots of the Gods".  People have said that this is how the Nazca Indians were able to draw pictures that could have only been able to be seen from the sky. 

But, could the Nazca Indians have flown without going up in a space ship?  In 1975, two individuals attempted to create a balloon using materials and techniques that would have been know to the Nazca Indians.  They knew what material was available because of the people that the Nazca Indians had buried.  Because of the dry climate the clothing that the people were buried in, has survived.  They found that the weave in the cloth was actually tighter than is used in parachutes and balloons today.  From this the created cloth that was of the same cotton and weight and used it to construct a balloon.  Unlike today's balloon which either use helium or a propane gas, this balloon was filled using hot air created by an open fire.  The problem is that once the balloon is aloft, you cannot add anymore hot air.  As such the balloon can only stay in the air for a short period of time.  They determined that the balloon could have flown for a very short-time (about 3 minutes) and to a height of between 400 to 1,000 feet.  However, no one truly believes that the Nazca Indians actually flew a balloon.


Nazca mummies


recreated possible Nazca balloon

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Recreating the Nazca Lines

The lines and figures are very impressive.  However, were they very difficult to create?  Creating the pyramids or Stonehenge in England was difficult.  In both cases large stones had to be dragged over many miles and then raised great heights.  The Nazca Lines are of great scale and length, but was there a challenge to create them.

Scientists have theorized that it may not have been too difficult.  It would have taken patience and a very little knowledge to keep the lines straight, but not much more than that.  In fact given a large enough number of workers (about 10,000) one scientist figured that all of the lines and figures could have been created in 10 years.

In fact Nazca type lines exist in other parts of the world including in the United States. 


This geoglyph (or intaglio) is located near Bakersfield, California. 
It is estimated to be over 1,000 years old.

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You could, if you wish create your own Nazca Lines or figures using the same techniques that would have been available to the Nazca Indians.  To create the lines and keep them straight, you only need to have a three stakes and a string.  You tie the string between two of the stakes and use the third stake as a guide.  By doing this you can keep on recreating a small straight line which you can then re-create as many time as you wish to get a large straight line.

To draw the figures you first create a smaller drawing.  Let say you draw a picture on a piece of grid paper where each square of the grid is 1 inch by 1 inch.  If you want to re-create your figure, but make is 10 times large, you would refer to the grid paper.  If for example a line goes two grids (or 2 inches) before it curves, you would make a line that was 20 inches before you draw the curve.  How do you make a curve?  You take the two stakes with the string.  Place the third stake in the middle and move the other two stakes until the string now bends around the third stake.  Now use the string as a guide to create the curve.