The Nazca Lines are a series of large ancient geoglyphs in the Nazca Desert, in southern Peru.
The Nazca (or Nasca) civilization flourished in southern Peru between 200 BC and 500 AD.
The Nazca Lines were made over many centuries and although their exact purpose is disputed the most widely held theory is that they were designed to be walked along as part of religious rites and processions.
The figures vary in complexity. Hundreds are simple lines and geometric shapes; more than 70 are zoomorphic designs of animals, such as birds, fish, llamas, jaguars, and monkeys, or human figures. There are also various flowers, trees, and other plants – as well as geometric shapes, including triangles, trapezoids, and spirals.
The region’s dry and windy climate has kept the lines clear. Visible from the air, the designs are less noticeable from ground level.
The lines were made remarkably easily and quickly by removing the oxidised darker surface rocks which lay closely scattered across the lighter coloured desert pampa floor. The aridity of the desert has preserved them well (although the sun can darken the exposed lighter sand over time) and many can still be clearly seen today.
Most of the lines are formed on the ground by a shallow trench with a depth between 10 and 15 cm (4 and 6 in).
In total, the earthwork project is huge and complex: the area encompassing the lines is nearly 450 square kilometers (170 square miles).
The largest figures are up to 370 meters (1,200 feet) long. Other figures include the hummingbird is 93 m (310 ft) long, the condor is 134 m (440 ft), the monkey is 93 m (310 ft) by 58 m (190 ft), and the spider is 47 m (150 ft).
The discovery of two new small figures was announced in early 2011 by a Japanese team from Yamagata University. One of these resembles a human head and is dated to the early period of Nazca culture or earlier, and the other, undated, is an animal.
The Nazca Lines were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.
The Nazca Desert where the lines are located stretches more than 80 km (50 mi) between the towns of Nazca and Palpa on the Pampas de Jumana, approximately 400 km (250 mi) south of Lima.
This desert is one of the driest on Earth and maintains a temperature near 25 °C year round. The lack of wind has helped keep the lines uncovered and visible.
To some the Nazca Lines remain one of the many mysteries of the ancient world, with suggested explanations ranging from astronomical calendar, sacred paths, to UFO markings made by extraterrestrials.
Refuting the hypothesis of Erich von Däniken that the lines had to have been created by “ancient astronauts”, prominent skeptic Joe Nickell has reproduced the figures using tools and technology available to the Nazca people.
The first published mention of the Nazca Lines was by Pedro Cieza de León in his book of 1553, and he mistook them for trail markers.
Although partially visible from the nearby hills, the first to report them were Peruvian military and civilian pilots.
Paul Kosok, a historian from Long Island University, is credited as the first scholar to study the Nazca Lines. In the country in 1940–41 to study ancient irrigation systems, he flew over the lines and realized one was in the shape of a bird.
María Reiche, a German translator who spent years studying the site and lobbying for its preservation, also concluded that it was a huge astronomical calendar and that some of its animal sketches were modeled after groupings of stars in the night sky. In 1967, however, the American astrophysicist Gerald Hawkins found no correlation between changes in the celestial bodies and the design of the Nazca Lines.