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Calendar >  Travels With TR – An Ancient Desert Mystery- Nazca Lines of Peru

Travels With TR – An Ancient Desert Mystery- Nazca Lines of Peru

By   /  December 11, 2014  /  2 Comments

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tom & carol

When most travelers think of Peru they think of Machu Picchu. We have been lucky enough to travel to Peru and Machu Picchu twice. At the end of our second trip to Peru, we extended our stay and booked an overnight bus trip to one of the most unusual, controversial and mysterious sites in the world, the Nazca Lines.

The Nazca Lines are a series of ancient geoglyphs in the Nazca Desert in Southern Peru. The area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. They are located 200 miles south of Lima. The lines and figures are believed, by most people who study these geoglyphs, to have been created by the Nazca culture, between 400 – 650 AD. There are over 300 figures, lines and designs in the area.

Our overnight bus trip out of Lima to Nazca had two price ranges.  For $35 you ride in “normal” greyhound bus type seats. For $45, you ride in a lower section of a huge bus and get large reclining seats, pillows and blankets.  These are prices for one way. The trip takes between 6 and 7 hours by bus.  There were only 12 of the reclining seats available and they were very comfortable. There was a TV for this section of the trip, but due to the late departure time we wanted to sleep so we would be ready for our adventure the next morning in Nazca.  We had also booked a hotel for one night we would stay in after our flight over the lines. It is also possible to book a package deal that would include the bus trip and the 35 minute flight in a small Cessna over the Lines.  The price begins around $195.

peru1Map of Peru and Nazca

Map of Peru and Nazca



The Nazca culture was an ancient South American indigenous tribe that lived in this dry, arid climate and developed a society based on religious beliefs possibly surrounding agriculture and fertility.  The desert they lived in is one of the driest places on Earth and is almost totally devoid of any wind.  They were able to develop beautiful ceramics and textiles, built underground aqueducts and designed and built large pyramid structures and the famous Nazca Lines. The Nazca people developed polychrome pottery designed with 15 distinct colors. There was no writing in the Nazca culture, much like the Inca. Instead, they put highly stylized symbols on their ceramics. Their specific religious beliefs are unknown and there is much speculation involving what they believed in.  A lot of the studies surround the famous lines in the desert and what ties they may have with their religious beliefs.  It appears the Nazca people believed in human sacrifice as 8 decapitated bodies buried in graves have been discovered.

There are 70 individual figures (called zoomorphic designs) carved into the desert floor and surrounding hills.  Stylized hummingbirds, spiders, monkeys, fish, sharks, killer whales, lizards and other animals appear everywhere. The hummingbird is 310 feet long, a condor is 440 feet long, the monkey is 310 ft. x 190 ft., the spider is 150 feet long, and a pelican is 445 feet long.  One of the newest discoveries is a 200 foot long snake next to the huge hummingbird figure.  One interesting fact is that many of the animals carved in the desert floor do not exist and have never existed in this area; for example the large monkey design – the closest monkeys to Nazca are on the other side of the Andes Mountains in the Amazon jungles hundreds and hundreds of miles away.  One of the most unusual figures is called “The Astronaut” carved in the desert on the side of a hill and resembling a human with a helmet on, waving to those looking at it. There are also a number of phytomorphic shapes carved in the desert floor resembling various trees and flowers. When we were at the lines, prior to our fight over the lines, our driver took us to a large tower that ran along the Pan American Highway. We were able to climb the tower and get a closer above ground look at one of the figures to get an idea as to the design and creative process. From the flat ground it is hard to tell what the figures looked like.

Along with the animal figures there are hundreds of geometric shapes of lines, circles, spirals, triangles, straight lines.  The longest of the straight lines stretches for 9 miles. Of these figures, the pattern that has received a lot of attention is called the Sun Star and Cross glyph, supposedly carved out before any of the other figures or lines were carved. This Sun Star and Cross is a huge combination of triangles, rectangles, squares and holes all carved into an intricate pattern. Interpretations of all of the carved figures and designs range from religious, to water source markers, to ritualistic symbols to summon water, to fertility symbols to astronomical calendars.

The building of the designs is fairly simple. The reddish pebbles covering the desert in this region was removed to expose the whitish/grayish ground beneath the pebbles.  This was usually done to a depth of 4-6 inches. The designs have remained relatively in tack due to the lime in the ground that is exposed from the removal of the crust and the morning mist/fog which helps to harden the exposed ground. This process eliminates any erosion that might occur.  It is not known how many people it would have taken to design and create any of the figures, but the numbers are estimated to have been in the hundreds. Unfortunately, there has been some damage due to dune buggies. The large lizard figure was cut in half when the Pan American Highway was built and cut through the lizard figure. Another unusual fact about the carving of the figures and designs is that there is no debris anywhere in the sides of the hills or surrounding trenches. Basically, what was done with the debris that was removed is not known, but it would have been tons and tons of debris.

As to the actual building of designs, it is speculated that the Nazca would have used markers and attached ropes to lay out what they wanted the pattern to look like. Surrounding hills could have been used to guide those laying out the pattern. One theory also says the Nazca might have been able to inflate, with hot air and smoke, sheep or goat skins sewed together to create a hot air balloon. It is theorized that a single individual holding on to ropes could have stayed afloat for a few minutes aiding the sighting of the designs.

As far as the discovery of the Nazca Lines, it is known that the lines are first mentioned in a journal in 1553 by Pedro Ciezado Leon. It is said the lines and figures could have been walked on for years prior to this and after the Nazca culture disappeared thinking the lines were actually roads leading to cities and the Pacific Coast. The Lines remain undiscovered from this point to 1927 when archaeologist Toribio Mejia Xesspe visited the area and spoke about the Lines at a conference in 1939. Planes flying over the site would have been when first time outsiders would have seen the designs.  Visitors to the site in the late 20’s did some damage to some of the lines and figures by driving their cars over the lines and many of the car tracks still remain.

It wasn’t until 1940-41 when astronomical historian Paul Kosok, from Long Island University, began to study the lines in detail. Maria Reiche, a German scholar, would also study the site and come up with the religious theory that the figures were markers for the rising of the sun and other celestial bodies.  Her religious astronomy theory of the star/constellation connection with the patterns on the desert floor resembling star patterns has only been accepted for a few of the designs.  Further studies by others show that only about 30 of the patterns relate to any constellation patterns. Ms. Reiche would study and live in this area of Peru for 40 years. Tony Morrison has also studied in this area and other parts of Peru and theorizes that the peoples of the Andes had folkways that indicated the lines in Nazca somehow were connected with religious sites and pathways in the Andes. Johan Reinhard has studied Bolivian villages and says many of the villages are connected by pathways that are religious in nature for the belief in dancing for rain and the lines in Nazca might have been designed for the same reason or some other religious significance. There is another popular belief that the lines are markers for underwater aqueduct systems. Spiral stairways in the desert floor circle down to underground aqueducts that table water flows into.  Some of these spiral stairways are over 2000 years old and they are still used today by local peoples. The stairways are numerous and occur about every 50 yards in the region they are located. Once again, the idea that the lines and figures are markers for the underwater system would only account for about 30% of the lines use.   Archaeologists, historians, and mathematicians have all tried to determine the purpose of Nazca.

There are also those people who speculate that the figures and geometric patterns are related in some way to extraterrestrials. Erich von Danikken, in his 1968 book, Chariots of the Gods, theorized that ancient visitors visited this area of the world and the ancient people living here would try and create landing sites for these alien visitors. Locals in the area have talked of unusual light sightings for years. TV personality Giorgio Tsoukalos, TV show “Ancient Aliens”, has theorized ancient aliens farmed this part of the world for various minerals and the long lines, cliffs that appear to have been flattened, are the result of alien craft mining the area. He, along with David Childress – author of Lost Cities and Ancient Mysteries of South America, have spent time up close and personal speculating about the famous lines of Nazca.  Whatever you choose to believe, there is no doubt the lines and surrounding area is a fascinating place to visit.

This is not the only part of the world where carvings exist in the ground from ancient peoples. In the United States, in Blythe, California, a 170 foot man is carved in the floor of the Colorado Desert as well as other animal figures and some lines, constructed by early American Indian tribes.  None of the carvings approach the size or sophistication of the Nazca Lines.  The age of this figure and other carvings is unknown and has been speculated to be anywhere from 450 years to 10,000 years old.

In Kazakhstan there are 50 unusual geoglyphs carved in the ground. Meanings to these carving, like Nazca, are still being debated. The age and who carved them is under study.  As for Nazca, as of 2012 there is a new research center that has been built and the area is under study here for the next 15 years.

Not far from the lines of Nazca are the adobe pyramids of Cahuachi, estimated to be around 1500 years old. There are 40 mound structures highlighted by the large adobe citadel. It is thought that the Nazca people did not live here but used this site as a ceremonial center and pilgrimage center. Some of the mounds overlook the Nazca Lines at the extreme end of the area the lines extend. Close to this area is a part of the desert with the exposed bones of mummified people visible, once buried in the desert, scattered along the desert floor. Part of their weathered clothing or blankets can be found on many of the bodies.   It is believed the exposed bones are a result of natural erosion in this part of the world.

Part of our trip to Nazca included a boat trip to the Paracas National Reserve to visit the Ballestas Islands, home of some 250 different species of birds. Also on the islands are Humboldt penguins and over 5000 fur seals and sea lions. This area has been referred to as the Peruvian Galapagos or the Poor Man’s Galapagos. The islands are small groupings of rock islands and there are thousands of birds living on the islands. The birds include such types as Guanay Guano, Blue Footed Booby, Tendrils and hundreds more. The islands are roughly 6 miles off the coast and the boat trip out and back lasts about 2 hours. There was once a large mining operation on the islands to farm bird droppings used for fertilizer.   Another interesting site we were shown as part of this trip was the carving called the Paracas Candelabra. This carving is around 600 feet across and looks down on the Pisco Bay.  It was supposedly designed and built by the Paracus culture before the Nazca Lines were constructed and is 103 miles from Nazca. The carving has been said to represent a lightning rod, a symbol associated with the god Viracocha. We were able to view the carving from our boat as we made our way to the Ballestas islands.

One unusual site we did not see, due to time constraints, located about 100 miles south of Nazca in the Pisco Valley on the Nazca Plateau, is called the Band of Holes. These 5,200 holes, dug out of the plateau, range from 6-7 in. deep to 6-7 feet deep and 3 feet across to 20-30 feet across. They are grouped in rows of 8 across as they wind north to south for 2 miles. When seen from the air the holes are said to form a giant snake. Snake formations are in various other parts of the world, such as Serpent Mound in Ohio. And if this isn’t unusual enough, visitors could travel to the Paracus History Museum, managed by Juan Navarro, and see the slanted skulls of these ancient people. The method to form these elongated human skulls in this manner is called Lambdoidal Cranial Deformation, binding of the human skull. Whether it was thought to be a sign of beauty, a religious rite, or some other purpose is unknown. Again, those who believe in extraterrestrial contact like to believe these skulls were being formed to resemble ancient visitors. They were even featured in the closing scenes of the last Indiana Jones movie, “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”.

This part of the world is filled with some of the most interesting and fascinating sites to be seen. It does take some planning to get here and take in the sites, but it is worth the time to see mysteries that rival anything else the world has to offer.

 

 

 

 

 

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  • Published: 9 years ago on December 11, 2014
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  • Last Modified: January 4, 2015 @ 7:03 pm
  • Filed Under: Travel
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2 Comments

  1. Adrianna says:

    How fascinating! I never thought about Peru until after you wrote this article. Now I want to go see all the artifacts, sights, and culture there. Have you been to Asia yet?

    • TR says:

      Yes – Did a China trip (article on Terra Cota figures in the next few weeks) and recently visited Vietnam, Thailand, Burma and Cambodia. If you re interested in traveling with us to Croatia and Slovenia contact me.

      TR

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