Why Were the Nazca Lines Created?
The Nazca Lines are a collection of massive geoglyphs scattered throughout the Nazca Desert of Southern Peru. They were created by the people of the Nazca culture between 400 BCE and 500 CE, who revealed a layer of distinctive yellow-grey soil by moving large stones and small pebbles scattered throughout the desert landscape.
There are over 800 straight lines, 300 geometric figures, and 70 spectacular animal and plant designs (biomorphs) that make up the corpus of Nazca Lines. Because most are huge–between 400 and 1,100 meters long–the best way to view them is from above, about 500 meters in the air.
The geoglyphs are spectacular in their detail and artistry. The most recognizable are clear representations of animals, including a spider, monkey with a looped tail, hummingbird, condor, pelican, lizard, and whale.
Since their re-discovery by Peruvian archaeologist Toribio Mejia Xesspe, who spotted them while walking up a hill in 1927, scientists, archaeologists, and anthropologists have debated why the Nazca Lines were created.
One of the earliest theorists was Paul Kosok, the first scholar to view them from the air. He initially suggested that they were part of an ancient irrigation system. Alongside Richard Schaedel and Maria Reiche, Kosok later proposed that the lines may even have been part of astronomical features such as an observatory or astral map. They thought that the lines indicated points on the horizon where the sun and other celestial bodies rose or set during the solstices. However, archaeoastronomers Gerald Hawkins and Anthony Aveni suggest that there is not enough evidence to support this theory, and it is therefore not widely supported.
Johan Reinhard proposed one of the most popular current theories: that the Nazca people created the lines as ritual pathways to guide them to sacred spaces where they could plead to the gods for more water and fertile crops.
In 2011, a Japanese team from Yamagata University discovered two small figures. It was the culmination of five years of fieldwork which revealed 100 new geoglyphs. As recently as 2019, and with the help of machine learning and artificial intelligence, they could scan the data gathered from past research and find previously unrecognized geoglyphs.
With rapidly evolving drone technology and computing power, there’s little doubt that more Nazca geoglyphs will be found. And with them, perhaps more that will allow archaeologists to prove definitively why the Nazca people created them.