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Nazca Lines

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Nazca Lines

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The Nazca Lines - Description

The Nasca Lines are located in the Pampa region of Peru. The desolate plain of the Peruvian coast which comprises the Pampas of San Jose (Jumana), Socos, El Ingenio and others in the province of Nasca, which is 400 Km. South of Lima, covers an area of approximately 450 square km, of sandy desert as well as the slopes of the contours of the Andes.

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The Lines were first spotted when commercial airlines began flying across the Peruvian desert in the 1920's. Passengers reported seeing 'primitive landing strips' on the ground below. No one knew who had built them or indeed why. Since their discovery, the Nasca Lines have inspired fantastic explanations.

On the pampa, south of the Nasca Lines, archaeologists have now uncovered the lost city of the line-builders, Cahuachi. It was built nearly two thousand years ago and was mysteriously abandoned 500 years later. New discoveries at Cahuachi are at last beginning to give us insight into the Nasca people and to unravel the mystery of the Nasca Lines.

Cahuachi is emerging as a treasure trove of the Nasca culture. As Orefici and his team excavate, discoveries of paintings on preserved pottery, and the ancient technique of weaving that the Nasca people developed, have given an insight into how the lines may have been made, and what they might have been used for, more than 1500 years ago.

Most exciting is the discovery of human remains. Stunningly preserved in the dry soil of the Peruvian desert are the mummified bodies of the Nasca themselves.

Originally believed to have been a military stronghold, Cahuachi is now reckoned to be a place of ritual and ceremony, and Orefici's stunning new evidence confirms this idea. Cahuachi is now revealed to have been abandoned after a series of natural disasters destroyed the city. But before they left it, the Nasca people covered the city in the arid pampa sand where, until recently, it has remained a barely visible mound in the desert.

Composition of the Lines

The pebbles which cover the surface of the desert contain ferrous oxide. The exposure of centuries has given them a dark patina. When the gravel is removed, they contrast with the color underneath. In this way the lines were drawn as furrows of a lighter color, even though in some cases they became prints. In other cases, the stones defining the lines and drawings form small lateral humps of different sizes. Some drawings, especially the early ones, were made by removing the stones and gravel from their contours and in this way the figures stood out in high relief.


Here is the size of some of the most famous Nasca geoglyphs:

- The Spider, approximately 46m long,
- The Monkey, 55m long,
- The Guanay (guano bird), 280m long,
- The Lizzard 180m,
- The Hummingbird, 50m long,
- The Killer Whale, 65m long or
- The Pelican - the largest of them all - at 285m long.

Other Geoglyphs

The Nazca Lines are the most outstanding group of geoglyphs in the world. There are also huge geoglyphs in Egypt, Malta, United States (Mississippi and California), Chile, Bolivia and in other countries. But the Nasca geoglyphs, because of their numbers, characteristics, dimensions and cultural continuity as they were made and remade through out the whole prehispanic period, form the most impressive as well as enigmatic archeological group.

Faint geometric figures (GGF drawing). Click here to find more about it.

The Nazca plain is virtually unique for its ability to preserve the markings upon it, due to the combination of the climate (one of the driest on Earth, with only twenty minutes of rainfall per year) and the flat, stony ground which minimises the effect of the wind at ground level. With no dust or sand to cover the plain, and little rain or wind to erode it, lines drawn here tend to stay drawn. These factors, combined with the existence of a lighter-coloured subsoil beneath the desert crust, provide a vast writing pad that is ideally suited to the artist who wants to leave his mark for eternity.

The concentration and juxtaposition of the lines and drawings leave no doubt that they required intensive long-term labor as is demonstrated by the stylistic continuity of the designs, which clearly correspond to the different stages of cultural changes.

There appear to be two kinds of designs: the first are figures of various beings and things and the others form geometric lines. The former consists of figures of animals, plants, objects, such as anthropomorphic figures of colossal proportions made with well-defined lines. Of these figures which have been restored by Maria Reiche and other collaborators about 70 are known.

There are also drawings of flowers and plants, as well as representations of deformed animals and other strange figures. An example of this is the drawing of a weird being with two enormous hands, one normal and the other with only four fingers. Also represented are drawings of man-made objects such as yarn, looms and "tupus" (ornamental clasps). All these figures have well-defined entrances which could be used as paths or to allow people to line together along the conformations of the drawings.

The anthropomorphic figures are relatively few and are situated on the slopes. The most well-known being The Astronaut at 32m length and E.T., discovered by Eduardo Herran in 1982. Others are The Man with a Hat and The Executioner and they also appear to be the most primitive. These figures are very similar to the small petroglyphs found in the rocky areas of the region.

In terms of the lines, many kilometers long, they crisscross sectors of the pampas in all directions. Many of the lines form geometric figures: angles, triangles, bunches, spirals, rectangles, wavy lines, etc. Other lines form concentric circles converging with or emanating from a promontory. Other prints have formed "roads" like geometric planes and appear to have been occupied by large groups of the population.

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Many of the lines are random and seem to have no pattern to them. They are seen over the scattered seemingly at random over the desolate plain, crossing and intersecting for no apparent reason.

Photo Copyright by Gilbert de Jong.

Photo Copyright by Gilbert de Jong.