15 Nazca Lines Facts You Might Not Know

nazca lines facts
An aerial shot of the hummingbird. Photo credit: Bjarte Sorensen

In case you’re unawares, the Nazca Lines are a series of geoglyphs (large designs on the ground using rocks/earth) near Nazca in southern Peru that have perplexed archaeologists, historians and mathematicians for nearly a century. The surrounding landscape – one of the driest on earth – looks post-apocalyptic and I saw a geoglyph on nearby Islas Ballestas. Something I’ll never forget. Here’s 15 Nazca Lines facts you might not know about:

  • The Nazca Lines contain over 800 straight lines, 300 geometric figures and 70 biomorphs, which are animal and plant designs.
  • Some of the straight lines are 30 miles long, while the largest biomorphs stretch up to 1200 feet.
  • The lines were made by removing iron-oxide coated rocks from the earth, leaving a lighter coloured clay in contrast to the surrounding terrain. This layer of clay contains large amounts of lime which helps protect the designs from erosion.
  • The Nazca Desert in southern Peru (where the lines are located) is one of the driest places on earth, has comparatively little wind and is around 25 degrees Celsius year-round – near perfect conditions for preservation.
  • The total area of the Nazca Lines is roughly 500 km square.
  • Most of the lines are a shallow trench between 10 and 15cm deep.
  • Contrary to popular belief, the lines can’t only be seen from the air but also from the surrounding foothills.
The Candelabra geoglyph on nearby Islas Ballestas
  • The first known mention of the Nazca Lines was in 1553 in a book by Pedro Cieza de Leon, where he mistook them for trail markers.
  • The first person to systematically study the lines was Peruvian archaeologist Toribio Mejia Xesspe in 1926.
  • The lines were brought to public attention following the first commercial flights over Peru in the 1930s.
  • Academic Joe Nickell, from the University of Kentucky, reproduced the designs using technology available to the people of Nazca (widely believed to have made the designs) between 1 and 700 AD. The publication Scientific American called his work “remarkable in its exactness”.
  • American explorer Jim Woodman proclaimed the designs could not have been made without flight. He therefore built a hot-air balloon from materials and techniques he believed were available to the Nazca people at the time. The balloon flew for a few minutes.
  • The Nazca lines were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994.
  • In December 2014 Greenpeace placed large letters near the site, visible from the air, which read “Time for change! The future is renewable GREENPEACE”. The organisation left footprints in the area close to the hummingbird design, which caused Peru’s government to enact a lawsuit against them. Greenpeace later apologised.
  • While it’s generally inferred the designs are connected to rituals involving water/fertility, the precise meaning of the geoglyphs is unknown.

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