The Nazca Lines

Golnaz & I in a AeroParacas private 2-seater

Golnaz & I in a AeroParacas private 2-seater

The famous & mysterious Nazca lines was our next stop.  I took the local ‘Soyuz’ bus (located around the corner from Cruz Del Sur terminal) in Ica (2h30 – 11 soles) while Golnaz had to catch the Cruz Del Sur bus.  People adviced Golnaz & me not to book a flight above the Nazca Lines in travel agencies but directly in the airport.  Agencies charge between 90 & 130$ for a flight per person. In the small airport of Nazca, you’ll find plenty of flight companies offering 35-minute flights for 80-90$/pp. Golnaz & me chose for a private 2-seater for 85$ pp with AeroParacas.  The pilots were really dedicated and friendly, what made the experience even better.

The Nazca lines

The Nazca lines

The Nazca lines, contrary to the Paracas geoglyphs, are traced onto the arid plains of Nazca and can therefor only be seen from the air. For this reason they remained undiscovered until the first half of the 20th century when aviators employed to fumigate the cotton fields in the valley saw them by chance from the air.  The designs only became known to the scientific community in the late 1930s through the work of the American researcher Paul Kosok, which gave rise to investigations regarding the mysterious origin and purpose of these lines.

Maria Reiche Memorial

Maria Reiche Memorial

The history of the study of the Nazca lines is intimately associated with Maria Reiche.  This German mathematician who initially collaborated with Kosok, was the first to assume the difficult task of researching, promoting and protecting these marvels of Andean inventiveness.  Maria Reiche dedicated her whole life to the study of these lines.  Among the people of Nazca, memories remain fresh of that slender figure roaming the plains, producing maps, taking measurements and even carrying a broom which she used to clean many of those ancient designs.  Popular culture recognized and acknowledged  her sincere and selfless passion and she became known as ‘The Lay Of The Plains’

But as many I had those classic inquiries… who made the lines?  How old are they and how were they made?  What was their purpose?  The search to answers to these questions fascinated me…

The Hands

The Hands

Who made the lines?

The first contribution of Maria Reiche was to confirm the link between the mysterious lines and the Nasca culture. This seemed not a difficult task bearing in mind the recurrent and consistent nature of the discovery of fragments of ritual Nazca pottery in the area occupied by the lines. In this Nazca pottery, many of the icons which also appear on the plains were depicted. These associations made it possible to establish who the makers of the lines were.

The Astronaut aka The Giant

The Astronaut aka The Giant

How old are the lines?

Once research established the makers, it was easy to determine that those geoglyphs were made between 100AD & 750AD, the period during which the Nazca culture developed.

How were they made?

The absolute masterwork of creating those line was without a doubt the most impressive aspect.  It’s clear that both the figurative images and the geometric lines were drawn with great exactitude by experts in techniques of composition.  There was no room for doubt or error.  This fact tells us that their construction was the product of a long tradition, based on the lines of the previous Paracas period, where the lines were drawn on the slopes of hills, meaning that they could be seen from the ground.  It became a standardization of their technique and they were now ready to draw it on the plain fields.

The Pelican

The Pelican

They used scale models upon which they would draw the designs, after which a grid would be placed over them.  The same procedure had to be repeated on an enormous scale in order to reproduce the designs with the desired exactitude and symmetry.  To create those huge grids, stakes and ropes must have been used to establish fixed points and trace out the straight lines.  The Nazca artists probably also developed instruments which, with some kind of viewfinder, would enable them to identify a point on the horizon in relation to another point.  The soft surface of the plains provided the ideal physical space for the creation of these designs.

The Hummingbird

The Hummingbird

The surface layer was cleaned until not far below the surface the much lighter color of the second geological layer was exposed, creating the contrast which contributed to the emphasizing of the design in low relief.

The Monkey

The Monkey

What was their purpose?

The mystery surrounding the purpose or meaning of the Nazca lines continues to inspire many different interpretations.  Maria Reiche was the first to propose a serious hypothesis regarding these geoglyphs.  She believed that the lines were world’s largest astronomical calendar, which would have functioned to depict the main constellations as well as to establish and follow on Earth the movement of the stars that guided the agricultural calendar, thereby adjusting activity to periods of rainfall and drought.

The fascinating area of the Nazca lines

The fascinating area of the Nazca lines

However, recent research has shown that the positions of only some of the lines are related to astronomical phenomena.  In recent years other interpretations have emerged based on new archeological evidence which have enriched our perspective on this enigma.  It is now believed that the majority of the Nazca lines are oriented towards valleys & the origin of water sources, which would seem to indicate that their main purpose was to mark fertile lands or river basins, a valuable consideration in such a markedly arid environment.  Recent archeological discoveries reveal evidence backing this hypothesis.

Nazca town

Nazca town

One of the most important lasting contribution of Maria Reiche’s work was the first detailed catalog and map of the Nazca lines.  This meticulous inventory recorded the main types of geoglyphs present on the plains and revealed the popular icons of the Nazca civilization such as the monkey, hummingbird, killer whale, dog, lizard, tree of life, astronaut, hands, tarantula and albatross.  Thanks to these first records, a number of the images represented by the lines have become established as part of the national and international collective consciousness.

The geoglyphs were drawn in combination with geometric shapes such as straight lines, spirals, zigzags, trapezoids, etc and were furthermore not carved very deep into the surface.  That made it really hard to see the different shapes but our pilot & guide explained us meticulously where to look and flew often twice over the designs for us both to see it.

Our Nazca flight certification

Our Nazca flight certification

Fascinating to see this masterpiece from the air!  In Santa Cruz, a small village right next to the lines and not so far from the town of Nazca lies now the Maria Reiche Institution where further research & preservation occur.  Another option to see the Nazca lines is from the ground in a high man-made tower in the middle of the desert but you see only a couple of designs and it obviously will never be comparable with a flight over the fascinating Nazca area.

After landing, our pilot gave us a ‘Nazca flight’ certification.  Amusing but nevertheless a nice souvenir of a unique experience!  Afterwards we strolled around town, had a typical ‘almuerzo’ lunch and enjoyed the afternoon in Nazca town before catching a nightbus to Peru’s second largest city… la cuidad blanca, Arequipa !

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