Ancient, Giant Images Found Carved Into Peru Desert

Gonzalo Castillero
October 8, 2002

Human and animal likenesses, a knife, and a sundial are among the "geoglyphs," or giant figures etched into the earth and discernible from the sky, most recently discovered in the Peruvian desert.

Peruvian archaeologist Johny Islas and German colleague Markus Reindel have identified new etchings made by the ancient Nasca people in the desert valleys of Palpa, about 460 kilometers (290 miles) south of Lima.

After five years of work, the scientists were able to identify more than 1,000 new geoglyphs.

The Nasca, whose culture flourished from around 200 B.C. to the middle of the seventh century A.D., made many of their etchings near the city of Nazca.

But the glyphs identified by the two archaeologists in Palpa, 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of the city, predate the geoglyphs previously discovered and appear to mark the beginning of that civilization.

Thanks to aerial photographs, the researchers were able to identify 650 archaeological sites as well as thousands of geoglyphs, petroglyphs, and cemeteries left by the Nasca people.

Islas and Reindel also found planks with etchings similar to the enormous drawings previously discovered in the desert sands.

"The technique is simple," Islas said. "The straight lines are traced with stakes attached with a string. The difficult part is translating the figures to the large scale while maintaining the correct proportions." The Nasca people created more than 1,000 figures of varying sizes, from a sundial 150 meters (500 feet) long to whales, foxes, and pelicans of 40 meters (130 feet) in length. They also etched human figures, apparently representing a family, each measuring 30 meters (100 feet) long.

The Nasca created these immense figures in an effort to differentiate themselves from their predecessors, the Paracas, whose art was on a much smaller scale.

The geoglyphs in the Palpa valley provide evidence that a new culture emerged in the region near the start of the Christian era, bringing with it new methods of building settlements and a new ideology.

The etchings in the desert make up a sacred landscape honoring water and fertility.

The cultural changes evident from the geoglyphs have also been noted by scientists studying the more than 600 archaeological sites in the region.

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