One of the driest places on earth, with only an average of 20 minutes of rain annually, the desert of Nazca, found in the south of Peru, is known across the globe for one thing. Drawings and lines that crisscross the desert, known as the Nazca Lines, have been a source of curiosity and mystery from, almost, the beginning of time, and have certainly been an enviable place to visit for intrepid travellers from all over the world.
Due to the largely stagnant weather of this region, without much wind or rain, the lines have remained mostly intact since they were speculated to have been drawn, between 1-700 AD. The Nazca people are thought to have removed earth and rock from the dusty red ground to create the iconic white lines and shapes. 70 animal and plant drawings and hundreds or geometric figures and lines decorate the desert floor, but an agreement to the meaning of these lines, or the reason for their existence, has not been made.
Secret of the Stars
The lines were first discovered and studied in the early 1920s, but with the advent of air travel in the 30s the true wonder of the lines was uncovered. Maria Reiche, nicknamed ´The Lady of the Lines´, spent much of her life protecting and theorising about the significance of the sand drawings.
Reiche suspected that the lines were of astrological significance, following on from an early observation that some of the longer lines corresponded with the setting sun on solstice days. Furthermore, many of the animal geoglyphs (drawings) correspond with star constellations and mirror the night sky on specific nights of the year. In this way, Reiche and her archaeological followers were convinced that the Nazca lines were used as a calendar and a way to keep time in an age before clocks and conventional time-keeping techniques.
The significance of water
In one of the driest places on earth, water is, and would have been, a significant part of the everyday lives of the ancient Nazca people. The need, and often lack, of water, would have had religious, economic, and social consequences and this observation led one archaeologist, Johan Reinhard, to theorise that the lines were in fact linked to religious ritual sites. The lines acted as signposts to sacred sites where ceremonies would have been held to plead the gods for rainfall. The sheer size of the shapes and lines might suggest that they were created to be seen from above, perhaps by other-worldly gods in the sky.
Another water-related theory is that the dug-out lines may have acted as an irrigation system to carry water across the area, but this has been largely disputed as the lines themselves are not deep enough to act as a drain.
Hot Air Balloons
A final, perhaps more light-hearted theory, is that the Nazca people created the drawings and lines for enjoyment. But without being able to see them from a height, this would seem unlikely. This is where the hot air balloon theory comes in, which suggests that the Nazca people made primitive hot air balloons, not only to view the lines but also to use during the creation of the lines to manage the proportions and accuracy of the shapes. Some historians have attempted to build these hot air balloons, using the materials and techniques available to the Nazca people at the time, and with reasonable success, but little evidence of the existence of such air craft has been found to date.
No one really knows for sure what the lines mean and why they are there, so a visit to Peru and, in particular, to Nazca will certainly ignite your curiosity and perhaps you can form your own theories on a flight over the mysterious Nazca Lines.