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Mystery Casefile: The Nazca Lines

In the barren, high Nazca Desert of Peru lays a mystery with origins that stretch back more than 2,000 years. Within this desert, a mysterious series of lines and geoglyphs were created along the desert plateau between 500 BCE and 500 CE. Numbering in the hundreds, these lines and figures depict animals like spiders, jaguars, llamas, hummingbirds, monkeys, lizards, pelicans, a killer whale, humans and more. Plants, odd shapes and geometric lines and shapes also weave their way through the 170 square mile ancient desert canvas. What is most peculiar is the only way to see the true scale of these geoglyphs and what they represent is to view them from a high altitude, either from flying a plane or viewing them from a nearby mountain. These ancient earthworks have become known as the Nazca Lines.

The earliest report of the Nazca Lines dates back to 1553, however it was thought that the stones that made up the lines were just trail markers. It wasn’t until the late 1920’s that the lines began to be seriously talked about within the archeological community. By the 1930’s planes were flying over the area regularly and more people were seeing these mysterious geoglyphs. In 1939, Peruvian archeologist, Toribio Mejía Xesspe was the first to discuss his findings on the lines at a conference.

Shortly after, Paul Kosok, an American historian was the first to study the desert that harbored these mysterious glyphs in great detail. He was also the first scholar to fly over the plateau and noticed one set of lines that made the shape of a bird. Kosok discovered that all of these markings and moved stones on the ground actually made giant pictures and miles long straight lines in the desert. Kosok determined early on that some of the lines converged towards the position of the Sun during the solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. Kosok was then joined by American archeologist, Richard P. Schaedel and German Mathmatician, Maria Reiche to determine what these Nazca lines were created for. Scholars have since determined that the geoglyphs and lines were made using simple tools and surveying equipment based on archeological evidence around the plateau.

Though believed to be created primarily by the Nazca people, to date, there is not a solid answer as to what their purpose truly was, but there are certainly a number of theories. The first theory I’ll mention is that the Nazca built these to be seen by deities in the sky, which you guessed it, has some implications for another theory I’ll mention in a bit. Another theory by Maria Reiche, purported that the geoglyphs are astrological - relating to constellations in the night sky and would aid the Nazca in tracking the stars and solstice cycle. Another theory suggests that the lines were used in ritual and pilgrimage where the pilgrim would journey across the lines to a specific location, or state of mind. A third idea is that these glyphs are connected with water, a necessity to survive, especially in the desert where water is hard to come by. The idea is that these glyphs were created for performing water rituals for the Nazca people. Perhaps these were created with some or all of these theories being partially true.

As with much archeology, especially that of the ancient alien flavor, there are some fringe theories that have risen up in recent years. It’s important to note that there has never been any firm archeological evidence to support these theories, but nevertheless they still fun to think about. One such theory suggests that the Nazca people had the technology of hot air balloons and would use them to observe their handiwork from high above the desert plateau. Which begs the question, if they had access to balloons, what other tech did they possess? The main fringe theory is that the lines were created by “ancient astronauts” or extraterrestrial beings who visited Earth long ago. This notion was popularized by Erich von Däniken and his best-selling book, Chariots of the Gods? in 1968. Though it’s important to note, that he did not originate this idea and it in fact was already floating around in the public conscious who were aware of them, likening the lines to the “Martian Canals” that 1800’s astronomers, like Percival Lowell believed they were observing on Mars through their telescopes. Von Däniken’s proposal said that the geoglyphs were built by humans, but with instruction from alien beings and further suggested that many of the lines were built as some kind of airfield for spaceships. Further, in a follow up book, Arrival of the Gods in 1998, he included images of some of the glyphs that appear to depict extraterrestrial beings.

Thankfully, the Nazca desert is one of the driest and windless places in the world, which has aided in the long term preservation of these earthworks so that we can study them centuries later. Despite the myriad of theories, these lines are a testament to human ingenuity and creativity and inspire many to wonder about who we are and where we came from. What do you think of the Nazca lines?


Thanks to my Amazon Affiliate partnership I'm able to provide links to great reads about fortean subjects. As mentioned and linked above, Erich von Däniken's book, Chariot's of the Gods? is a fascinating thought exercise about humanity's origins and the Nazca Lines are one of the many subjects he covers. If you follow through my link it helps me out and keeps the lights on with a small commission from Amazon. Buy the book here (or click the book image)!

Von Däniken also followed up on the subject of the Nazca Lines with his 1998 book Arrival of the Gods which you can purchase here (or click the book image!). Thanks for reading!

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