These ancient geoglyphs that inhabit the desert of the cities of Nasca and Palpa, in the Ica region (south of Lima, the Peruvian capital) are unknown to even the most experienced archaeologists. Nobody knows who, how and why they did it.
There are even theories that these historic traces (promoted by the Swiss scientist Erich Von Däniken), considered a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco), were made by beings that They are not from this planet. That's right, by aliens. However, while the mystery of the Nasca Lines is being solved, they develop as a tourist attraction for adults and children.
Its imposing forms, made of a single stroke and with a pulse that does not seem human, are liked by all who visit them. Impressive wherever they are seen, although to appreciate them in their full splendor you would have to take one of the three paths already outlined: climb the surrounding mountains (on foot), locate one of the observation towers that exist in the area (up to 12 meters high) or hire the service of a small plane. In the latter, don't worry, it will have a pilot in charge of the adventure through the skies.
The study and conservation of these ancient messages were promoted -mostly- by the German archaeologist Maria Reiche, considered the pioneer in her research. Although, it should not be confused with its discoverer: the American anthropologist Paul Kosok, who suggested that these figures represented an astronomical calendar.
Among the almost 800 figures found to date, those of the hummingbird, the condor, the pelican, the monkey and the spider stand out. These are the most famous and the most frequently seen, since they are preferred by the public due to their size -some up to 300 meters- and state of conservation. Being in a land with a privileged climate (very little rain) and sheltered from strong winds thanks to the large sand hills that surround them, they have not been modified by nature.
As they are geoglyphs with more than a millennium on them (according to studies, the Nasca Lines were created between 500 BC and 500 AD), many of the interested professionals, including archaeologists and anthropologists, they are surprised by how well reserved they are to date.
Getting to the Nasca Lines from Lima, the capital of Peru, is quite simple: you can take a bus to Ica (approximately four hours) and, from the southern region, hire a specialized service that will take you to Nasca. These can be by bus, van or taxis that already know the route perfectly. The estimated time to get from Ica to Nasca is a little over two hours. The other alternative to get there from Lima is to take a single trip in a private car: it will be a little more than six hours full of adventure through the Panamericana Sur highway.
The mystery may not be solved, but the Nasca Lines are there, in full view and patience of all those curious who wish to discover them, to amaze the sight of all those who dare to fly through the air to witness them.
Since their discovery in 1927, various theories have been formulated to explain the reasons why these drawings were drawn.
Although they were already observed in 1547 by the Spanish conquistador Pedro Cieza de León, who in his chronicles referred to "signals" in the desert, the Nasca lines did not arouse archaeological interest until 1927, when the Peruvian archaeologist Toribio Mejía Xespe was informed of them. the presence of some mysterious signs in the soil of the Peruvian coast and carried out the first investigations on the ground, reaching the conclusion that they were Inca roads.
The American anthropologist Paul Kosok made a trip through the south of the country in the 1930s and stopped at the top of a plateau to contemplate the singular lines that crossed the pampa. Determined to study them, he cleaned up some lines and his astonishment had no limits when he verified that one of those drawings took on the unmistakable shape of a huge bird in full flight. Kosok flew over the skies of Nasca in 1939, being amazed by the vision of some geoglyphs that could only be appreciated in all their splendor from the air. He came to the conclusion that the figures were related to constellations, solstices and equinoxes; he was sure that he was looking at the world's greatest astronomy book.
But the mystery of the authorship of the lines still persisted. Iconographic studies of the drawings were carried out and some motifs with designs that appeared in Nasca ceramics and fabrics were identified, so that from the beginning the lines were related to this local pre-Inca culture, which developed in the area between the years 100 and 600 AD. (In later years, Carbon 14 dating corroborated this authorship).
The Nasca traced these extraordinary designs through grooves dug into the ground, to a depth ranging from thirty centimeters to one millimeter. The light color of the subfloor makes the resulting drawings clearly visible. Likewise, the aridity of the place, with less than one liter of rainfall per year, and the composition of the terrain have contributed to its conservation.
In 1932, the German mathematician María Reiche arrived in Peru, fleeing the serious economic crisis that was devastating her country and the rise of National Socialism. In Cusco she agreed to work as a governess to the children of the German consul. Fascinated by Peruvian culture, she soon after settled in Lima as a German teacher and later got a position at the Museum of Archaeology, where she worked with the famous Peruvian archaeologist Julio C. Tello. There, in 1939, she met Paul Kosok, and he convinced her to accompany him to Nasca to help him in her research.
From then until her death in 1998, María Reiche dedicated herself to the study, conservation and defense of the lines. Like Kosok, she was convinced that the lines constituted an immense astronomical calendar and that they were drawn to mark the rising of certain stars that marked the sowing periods. "They were built in association with the most frequent astronomical phenomena, recording the rising of stars like Sirius, Canopus and Alpha Aurigae...functioning like a great agricultural calendar," she said. She collected her theories in several highly successful books. as Contributions to geometry and astronomy in ancient Peru, published in 1968.
The fact that these lines can only be seen from the air has given rise to all kinds of theories, such as that of the Swiss Erich von Däniken, who in the 1970s stated that they were landing strips for extraterrestrial spacecraft. But for María Reiche the explanation is another: "It is to be assumed that if the authors of the lines could not fly, they could only perceive the appearance of their works in their imagination and they must have planned and drawn them beforehand on a smaller scale." Even so, in 1975, Jim Woodman and Julian Nott tried to show that the Nasca could fly and perhaps directed this work from the air. To do this, using natural elements, they made a hot air balloon in the shape of an inverted pyramid that ascended 130 meters until it began to deflate and descended abruptly, with which this hypothesis could not be proven.
Lately, new theories have emerged that refute Kosok and Reiche's theses on an astronomical interpretation of the lines, such as that of Toni Morrison, who relates the lines to hills and sacred places, or that of Alberto Rossell, who affirms that according to their antiquity , shape or size fulfilled different functions. But the most accepted theory today is that of the American archaeologist Johan Reinhard, resident explorer of the National Geographic Society.
Starting in the mid-1980s, Reinhard has proposed that the meaning of the lines, in a region as arid as Nasca, was to invoke water through fertility rites. According to him, the straight lines had a ritual character and their function must have been to connect sacred or worship spaces, such as the top of a mountain, where offerings to the gods would have been made to obtain water.
The investigations carried out by the Nasca-Palpa Project since 1997 seem to corroborate this hypothesis, since it has been verified that some lines indicate underground channels and in some mounds in the area Spondilus shells have been found, a mollusk that was an important symbol religious related to fertility.
The importance of water for the Nasca is also attested by the underground aqueducts they built. But, in the end, neither the rituals nor the infrastructures they devised to channel and store water managed to save them from the extreme drought that led to their disappearance. Also the impressive geoglyphs they left on the pampas are now threatened: tourists, vehicles, treasure hunters and even climate change endanger this archaeological treasure. As María Reiche already pointed out: «In a short time nothing will remain of this valuable legacy. It is urgent to take measures to prevent its destruction.