Intriguing Nazca Lines: the largest geoglyphs in the world

Vanesa Zegada | Live the World

November 23, 2022

The Nazca culture has left us one of the most intriguing archeological legacies. They made remarkable architectural works as aqueducts, temples, an observatory and urban areas. But the greatest mysteries of the Nazca culture are the Nazca Lines, the largest geoglyphs in the world. Why and how were they made is still unrevealed. Keep reading to draw your own conclusions about this culture.

It was estimated that the Nazca culture lasted from 100~200 BC to 700~800 AD. Its birth coincides with the decline of the Paracas culture, which used to occupy practically the same territory on the south coast of current Peru.

Even if a great part of their territory was desertic, they developed an efficient water system to maintain proper agriculture. A hydraulic system allowed them to obtain underground water that was transported to the driest areas through stone canals and aqueducts to be deposited in reservoirs and used in the cultivation. Despite the earthquakes in the region, many of their canals still exist and are in use more than a thousand years later.

© iStock/Zaharov

It is believed that the disappearance of this culture occurred after they did an excessive tailing of some areas – in order to use the wood for combustible and construction. By doing so, they lost their protection from climate disasters that later had devastating consequences.

Ceramics, textiles and music instruments found in the area helped us reveal a bit more of the daily life of Nazca people. But the most astonishing legacies were their main city and huge geoglyphs.

The political and religious center of Nazca culture, called Cahuachi, reveals their level of development. The archeological site started to be excavated in 1982, and there is a lot yet to be discovered. The architectural works found include temples, an observatory and developed urban areas. The main temple of the city has the form of a pyramid. Lots of smaller pyramidal structures were also excavated.

© iStock/Svetla Ilieva

Even if the Nazca agricultural, political, religious and social characteristics were inferred through the archeological findings, one of the discoveries still does not have an ultimate explanation: the Nazca Lines.

These works are generically known as geoglyphs - drawings on the ground created by removing earth and/or stones. Even if it is true that strong winds and rain are not usual in the area, the fact that those geoglyphs survived between one and two thousand years is remarkable. On top of that, their size is admirable: there are no bigger recorded geoglyphs on earth. By occupying a total area of 500 square km and having an individual average length of 180 m, they received the Guinness Record for "The Largest Geoglyphs".

© iStock/misio69

The possibility that the geoglyphs (or some of them) were created by the earlier Paracas culture or the later Wari culture is not discarded, though, for now, their creation by the Nazcas is the most acceptable statement.

In the modern age, the Nazca Lines have been unnoticed for decades due to one simple reason: they cannot be seen from the ground. Toribio Mejia Xesspe, a Peruvian archaeologist, was the first one who studied them in 1926, but the public knowledge of their existence took place when the commercial planes started to fly above the area in the 1930s. Nevertheless, the person who really devoted her entire life to studying the lines, making important discoveries was the German archeologist Maria Reiche, nicknamed “The Lady of Nazca”. People used to see her restlessly traversing the area day and night. Her devotion to these geoglyphs was not always understood but was certainly appreciated later.

From the sky, the geoglyphs appear as clear geometrical figures representing different animals and plants. Some of the most famous ones are 'The Monkey', 'The Lizard', 'The Spider', 'The Tree', 'The Condor', 'The Hummingbird' and, one that was not possible to relate with any animal, that was named 'The Astronaut'.

The theories of how the lines were created include various engineering instruments, and, as usual, some think that there was some extraterrestrial aid. Over time, also several theories about the purpose of the Nazca Lines were developed. Some of them explain its conception as a huge astronomical map, a geographical map pointing to important locations, or a ritual center. No theory was proved. And you, why do you think Nazca people created these lines that can only be seen from the sky?

© iStock/jarnogz

Most people make a day visit to Nazca departing from Huacachina or Paracas. Once in Nazca, some light aircraft make flights of 30 to 60 minutes to observe the Nazca Lines. As an alternative to the flights, there is an observation tower from where two of the geoglyphs can be distinguished. The rest of the day is left to visit the Nazca archeological sites.

If the mysteries of past civilizations catch your attention, discover the Nazca culture, its aqueducts, political and religious center and its most intriguing legacy: Nazca Linesthe largest geoglyphs in the world.

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