The Nazca Lines in Peru, located about 200 miles southeast of Lima and near the modern town of Nasca, are a series of enormous geoglyphs etched into a roughly 200 square-mile stretch of the desert. There are hundreds of them, ranging from geometric lines to complicated depictions of animals, plants and imaginary figures, created more than 2000 years ago, by the people of pre-Inca Nazca culture.
The site includes more than 800 straight lines on the coastal plain, some of which are 45 km (30 miles) long. Apart from that, there are 300 geometric figures, like triangles, rectangles, and trapezoids, as well as spirals and others. However, most interesting about the Nazca Lines are the representations of about 70 animals and plants, some of which measure up to 1,200 feet (370 metres) long and include a spider, a monkey, whale, llama, duck, hummingbird, dog, lizard, cactus plant, tree and flower.
Known as geoglyphs, those drawings on the ground were made by the people of pre-Inca Nazca culture, who simply removed the weathered and oxidized reddish rock of the surface to reveal the high contrasting light-coloured sandy earth below and arranged the site in designs of their choice. Probably, those primitive people of the area began their project with small-scale models and carefully increased their proportion to create the large designs. Due to the scarcity of rain, wind and erosion in the desert, the geoglyphs have remained largely unscathed throughout the centuries.
However, this early land art featuring lines and measuring as long as 30 miles, does not look very impressive or spectacular, if seen from the ground level and is best viewed from the air or from the surrounding hillsides. In fact, the commercial aircrafts in the 1920s and 30s first spotted the lines, which made them baffled.
Toribio Meji Xesspe, a Peruvian archaeologist, tried for the first time to study the lines systematically in 1926. However, the geoglyphs of the Nazca Lines gained widespread attention when pilots flew over them in the 1930s. American professor Paul Kosok investigated and found himself at the foot of a line on 22 June 1941. Based on the relative position of one of the lines, he studied to the sun around the winter solstice and concluded that the geoglyphs of the Nazca Lines are the largest astronomy book in the world.
The German Maria Reiche, who came to be known as the Lady of the Lines, also maintained that the designs had an astronomical and calendrical purpose. She further believed that some of the animal geoglyphs were representative of groups of stars in the sky. She studied the Nazca Lines for 40 years and fought single-handedly to protect the site from the reckless and irresponsible visitors.
The recent research suggests that the purpose of the Nazca Lines is related to water. However, the geoglyphs were not used as an irrigation system or a guide to find water, they were more likely to have been a ritualistic communicating method with the Nazca's deities, in an effort to bring the much-needed rain. Some scholars even pointed to the animal depictions, some of which are symbols for rain, water or fertility and have been found at other ancient Peruvian sites and even on pottery.