Lines and Geoglyphs of Nasca and Pampas de Jumana

Astronaut - Nasca
click to enlarge [No image modifications]
Location: Nasca, Ica, Peru

Visited: June 30, 2013

Opinion and Background:

[Note: This post is dedicated to the Columbian guy who was on the same plane and asked if I could upload the pictures I took. Also, for the purposes of originality, I noted any alterations I made to the pictures.]

The Nasca (sometimes spelled “Nazca”) and Pampa Lines and Geoglyphs are some of the more mysterious finds of ancient Peru. Tagged as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, they are a set of drawings depicting animals, geometrical shapes, and people which were carved on the desert floor near the towns of Nasca and Pampa nearly two thousand years ago. The drawings are amazing because they range from 30 meters (“the astronaut”) to over 300 meters across (“the heron”) meaning they can only be truly appreciated from the sky, which begs the obvious question, why would a civilization that lacked aviation technology make something that would only be seen from above? (Cue dramatic music and twilight zone theme).

Airplane - Nazca
Cessna making the fly by over the Nasca and Pampa Lines.

There are many theories that try to explain this, including the far fetched idea that aliens helped them. We seem to blame aliens (or God) whenever something cannot be immediately understood. There are however, some non-crack pot theories of why the Nasca civilization made these lines. Some anthropologists suggests that while it is true that the Nasca would not have the ability to view the lines themselves, it was not for them to see and more of an offering to the gods above. To truly understand this hypothesis, a little background into the ancient civilizations of Peru is required.

Trapezoids - Nasca Lines
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Ancient Peru has had a ton of civilizations develop, fall, transform, and rise again as their history expands about 5000 years from the people of Caral-Supe, the second most ancient civilization on Earth, to the Empire of the Inka (1450-1533). In between are the Nazca, Wari, Lima, Moche, Lambayeque and many more. While they have all been different, they usually had one underlining theme that was repeated amongst most, if not all of them. They celebrated the idea of three worlds, the human world (ground level), the dead world (underground), and the world of the gods (the sky). To civilizations like the Nasca, the here and now human world was not the most important one, so making an offering to the gods above would fit perfectly into the idea that the sky-world was superior to their world, and the gods would be able to see their “Nasca Lines” even if they couldn’t.

Nasca Monkey
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Another theory is that the lines, such as “the trapezoids” and some of the bird figures point in the direction of underground water sources. The Nasca civilization seems to have miraculously developed in one of the least hospitable biomes on Earth, a desert. It would make sense that for such a civilization to survive, they would have had to map out reliable sources of water, as it rarely rains in this region. One set of structures, “the aqueducts” or “puquios,” seem to fuel this theory as these spiral carvings into the ground show without a doubt that the Nasca had the ability to find and store underground water.

Nasca - humming bird
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A final theory is that the Nazca did indeed have at least a crude form of aviation technology, like a hot-air balloon. This theory comes from the idea that to make a figure in such a large scale, one would need an ‘eye in the sky’ to direct the work to ensure accuracy. This theory, however, has lost some credibility in the last few years as the method of enlarging a small scale picture has been proven to have been within the mathematical capacity of the Nasca of that time.

Nasca - parrot
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An interesting fact about the lines is where they were drawn. Natural phenomena happen everywhere on earth, and sandstorms are prevalent even in the Ica region of Peru. So how in the world did the lines not get erased over the years? The pilot of the plane we rode on explained that there is a protective layer of hot air that sits over the region where the lines were drawn. This shields it from both the very seldom drizzle and any potential sandstorms that might pick up. Were the Nasca aware of this, or was it just a lucky coincidence? I guess we might never know.

Nasca - Spider
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The Nasca and Pampa Lines have been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember. I can’t even recall how many National Geographic specials I have seen on these drawings, but I was glad to have finally seen them with my own eyes. One thing I must complain about is that they were not as easy to see from an airplane as any of these specials or pictures would suggest. With the exceptions of the “humming bird” and the “astronaut,” one has to really pay close attention to see the lines from the sky. Looking back at the pamphlets from the Peruvian government and pictures I have seen online, I must cry foul as it is obvious that the coloring has been seriously altered to make the lines seem more defined than they really are. Hey, this wouldn’t be a fair evaluation without a little criticism.

Tree, Hands, and Lizard - Nazca Lines
From top to bottom: Lizard (cut), Tree, and Hands. [No modifications]
Evaluation:

 

1) Completeness and Originality (10/15): Given how much time has passed, it is something of a miracle that so much remains untouched. Nonetheless, shapes like “the lizard” were unfortunately destroyed with the construction of the Pan-American Highway. Furthermore, some other shapes have been altered by ATVs which were allowed to roam free in the past. While the government seems good at protecting it now, some damage has been done.

2) Extensiveness of the Site (6/15): The area extends around 500 km squared. However, This all can be seen in about an hour from the air. If you go all the way and do the Nasca and Pampa lines, along with the ground views, it will take 2-3 hours tops.

 

3) Cultural Significance (6/25): The existence of the lines is proof that humanity could develop and prosper in a desert biome even in ancient times. However, the Nasca were never a huge or powerful empire and are unfortunately overshadowed by greater accomplishments of other Peruvian civilizations like the Caral, Quechua (Inka), and Moche.

4) Personal Impact (7.5/15): Maybe the build up was far to great. I expected to be blown away and while I did enjoy it and thought it was cool, I was literally, but not figuratively at the edge of my seat (because the plane banks really hard…sigh lame joke, fine!).

 

5) Logistics (7.5/10): Getting to Nasca from Ica, Lima, Cusco, or pretty much anywhere wasn’t hard at all, but then again, I am fluent in Spanish. I did notice that a Japanese couple which was not on a tour group seemed to have some difficulty in Nasca, as it is not a big town and doesn’t have many English speakers. In addition, considering the cost of everything else in Peru, the flight was rather expensive (70 USD for just the Nasca Lines, 140 for both the Nasca and Pampa Lines). I brokered a deal of half the Pampa Lines and the whole of the Nasca Lines for 85 USD and it was by far the biggest expense in the whole trip.

6) Uniqueness (18/20): Never seen anything like it outside of Peru.

 

 

Combined Score: 55/100

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Whale - Nasca

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Julio Moreno

Julio is a California native who has lived abroad since 2009 as an expat in South Korea and New Zealand. He is especially passionate about experiencing other cultures and visiting as many UNESCO World Heritage Sites as possible.
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