The Nazca Lines

The Nazca culture, which flourished from 100 BC to 800 AD between the Ica and Nazca valleys of southern Peru and drew heavily from the preceding Andean society of Paracas (800 BC-100 BC), is known for its rich array of polychrome textiles and ceramics, sophisticated irrigation technologies and elaborate burial practices.


Site of Nazca Culture in Peru, Map from Wikipedia [Public Domain]

Nazca artifacts often featured local flora, fauna, mythical deities and spirits.


Nazca Mantle, Brooklyn Museum, Wikipedia [Public Domain]


Killer Whale by User “Lyndsayruell”, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikipedia


Double-Spout Vessel, Wikipedia [No restrictions]


Nazca Lobster Vessel, Wikipedia [Public Domain]

The culture of Nazca is, however, most famous for a set of geoglyphs (large pictographs drawn on the ground) found in the Sechura aka Nazca Desert about 200 miles south of the Peruvian capital Lima. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, these designs (collectively known as the “Nazca Lines”) are spread across an arid landscape of 50 miles and have remained intact for over 2000 years. They consist of hundreds of enormous geometric (circles, triangles), zoomorphic (birds, mammals) and phytomorphic (trees, flowers) shapes. Completely viewable only from an aerial vantage point, these drawings were created to astonishing precision by clearing the reddish stones of the desert and exposing the greyish sand underneath.

Scholars of Andean civilisations have, for decades, debated the meaning and function of the Nazca Lines. It is generally believed that they were associated with the sacred rites of some water-cult and strategically engraved near aquifers and springs.


Nazca Desert by User “Christian Haugen”, CC BY 2.0, Flickr


Pedro Cieza de León’s (1520-1554) Peruvian Chronicles

First mentioned in the 16th century by the Spanish consquistador Pedro Cieza de León (1520-1554) in his chronicles of Peru, the Nazca Lines lay forgotten for long, only to be rediscovered in 1927 by Peruvian archaeologist Toribio Mejia Xesspe while he was hiking through the surrounding foothills. In the 1930s, pilots flying over the desert in commercial planes were able to get a better view of the designs. In 1940, Paul Kosok, an historian from Long Island University began to study the geoglyphs seriously and proposed that the lines were created to mark the alignment of celestial bodies – he called them “the largest astronomy book in the world”. Later, the German scholar Maria Reicher, who studied the lines for 40 years, advanced similar astronomical and calendrical theories. More radical and fantastic ideas began to emerge 1970s onwards – related to ancient astronauts and alien involvement.

In a 1986 book The Nazca Lines: A New Perspective on their Origin and Meaningthe National Geographic explorer Johan Reinhard applied a multidisciplinary approach to the lines, writing that “No single evaluation proves a theory about the lines, but the combination of archaeology, ethnohistory, and anthropology builds a solid case.” It is likely that our knowledge and conception of the Nazca Lines will continue to change and evolve with more and more research.


The geoglyphs:


Nazca Lines – Monkey by User “Christian Haugen”, CC BY 2.0, Flickr


Nazca Lines – Spider by User “Christian Haugen”, CC BY 2.0, Flickr


Nazca Lines – Hands by User “Christian Haugen”, CC BY 2.0, Flickr


Nazca Lines – Parrot by User “Christian Haugen”, CC BY 2.0, Flickr


Nazca Lines – Hummingbird by User “Christian Haugen”, CC BY 2.0, Flickr


Nazca Lines – Condor by User “Paul Williams”, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons


Nazca Lines – Dog by User “Christian Haugen”, CC BY 2.0, Flickr


Nazca Lines – Owlman by User “Christian Haugen”, CC BY 2.0, Flickr


Nazca Lines – Tree by User “Diego Delso”, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons


Further Reading:

Nasca: Eighth Wonder of the World (2000) by A. F. Aveni

The Incas and Their Ancestors: The Archaeology of Peru (2001) by M.E. Moseley

Art of the Andes: from Chavín (2012) by Rebecca R. Stone


Image Credit:

Featured: Nazca Lines, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons



12 thoughts on “The Nazca Lines

    1. Thanks for your comment. I encountered them for the first time years ago on Lonely Planet/Globe Trekker. Have stayed in my mind ever since.


  1. Outstanding and very informative. Some of their art reminds me slightly of the Phoenicians of what’s now the Mediterranean area. Makes you wonder about unseen global connections between peoples and cultures?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve heard the Olmec art of Mexico is both like ancient Chinese and West African stone work. Fascinating any way you study it.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Another 5000 geoglyphs are in the Atacama Desert (The Atacama Giant being its highlight). And there are even some modern ones around the world, like Marree Man from Australia.

    It just fascinating how much effort these people put into this creation. We are so lucky they survived so long!

    Liked by 1 person

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