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Nazca Lines

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The Nasca Lines and geoglyphs are one of the best known archaeological sites in South America, indeed the world. These large biomorph figures, long straight lines, and various geometric shapes were drawn on the surface of the desert near the town of Nasca beginning over two millennia ago. In 1995 the UNESCO added this area to the World Heritage List. The unanswered question that has historically aroused the most attention is: “Why were they created?”

About 20 theories are current amongst scientists and pseudo-scientists but even today nobody is able to provide a comprehensive and scientifically provable answer to this question. One of the major theories deals with astronomical phenomena. In order to prove this astronomical theory a special research project was started by the department of surveying and cartography of the University of Applied Sciences in Dresden, Germany.

The initial steps were the development of a special datamodel and the creation of a regional Digital Terrain Model (DTM). In September 2000 the photogrammetric data processing of the Nasca block (about 150 images) was started. This includes aerial triangulation, local DTM- generation, the extraction of lines and geoglyphs and the generation of ortho-images. Parallel to that the development of an astronomical approach was started.

The presentation includes theoretical as well as practical aspects. We report about the current stage of the project. Especially, the datamodel and the astronomical concept will be explained in detail. In the practical part we will demonstrate some analyses and special animations using our GIS.

Remarks: A quite similar article was presented at the International Workshop on Recreating the Past ~ Visualization and Animation of Cultural Heritage ~ in Ayutthaya, Thailand, 26 February- 1 March 2001. This workshop was organized by ISPRS Com. V.


The geoglyphs of Nasca, Peru are considered one of the world’s major mysteries. Despite the fact that many efforts have been made in the past 70 years to record and analyze the geoglyphs no convincing explanation has emerged yet which would explain the purpose of these drawings in the sand beyond any doubt. Many hypotheses have been put forward and each author will find a certain number of lines and figures in support of his/her opinion. The huge number of lines, trapezoids, star centers, biomorphical figures, etc. has up to now defied any comprehensive recording and analysis.

We are currently conducting an ambitious project which aims at the complete 3-D recording of the geoglyphs of the areas of Nasca, Palpa and San Ignacio (a total of about 300 km2) with photogrammetric means. This is done in cooperation with a group of archeologists who will try to relate their excavation results to the geoglyphs in order to get a more complete picture of the overall cultural and social background of the Nasca people (200 B.C. - 600 A.D.).

We are using the latest digital photogrammetric technology for the recording of the geoglyphs and some of the most advanced visualization software. Finally, all data will be integrated on a GIS platform, which will require the efficient management of both vector- and extensive raster image data.

One of the final aims is to make the vector data available to the international community of scientists who show a serious interest in contributing towards the solution of the Nasca mystery. In this process we have produced over 1000 aerial photographs at scales 1:5 000 and 1:10 000 both in color and B/W. In addition we have collected existing, older photographs which can give us an indication of the damage that has been done to the geoglyphs in recent years.

At present the block Palpa has been fully processed and visualization results have been shown to the public on a SGI Onyx2 in an interactive mode at the Nasca exhibition in the Rietberg Museum, Zürich and in the VisDome of ETH Zürich as stereo projection on a large 4x12 m2 screen. We report here about the current stage of the project.

Compare Nazca lines with Area 51desert "drawings"

The following satellite images of the regions surrounding Area 51are available from Google Maps:,-116.867656&spn=0.003773,0.007308&t=k&hl=en


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