Maria and the Stars of Nazca
   María y las Estrellas de Nazca
written by Anita Jepson-Gilbert
translated by Carmen A. Casis

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The Nazca Lines

Maria Reiche

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Marlene Bueno Panduro


The Lines

The Nazca Lines refer to the mysterious markings on the flat desert area called the pampa,which lies about 250 miles south of Lima, Peru, and just north of the town of Nazca. Some of the markings are straight lines, while others are giant line drawings of animals and plants, spread over an area of 175 square miles.  Although some of these drawings date back to over 2,000 years ago, they were never washed away because it almost never rains in this area.

The Nazca line drawings are so enormous that they cannot be seen from the ground. But from higher up, either from a tower or an airplane, these single-line drawings become plainly visible. The ground pictures include a huge tree, a spider, a monkey, a lizard, a dog, a humming bird, a flamingo, an iguana, a condor, and even a strange image of two large hands, to name just a few. They range in size from 16.5 to 328 yards (a football field is 100 yards). Besides the many interesting pictures, there are also parallel lines that look like roads or runways, as well as spirals, rectangles, and other geometric figures.

The German mathematician and archeologist Dr. Maria Reiche spent her life studying how the lines were made.She could see that the lines were carved, probably with a sharp stick, through the top layer of dark-colored soil down to a white powdery layer called gypsum.The dark gray rocks from the top layer were cleared and turned over to reveal a white surface underneath. The rocks were then used to outline the continuous-line drawings, with the white side up. Dr. Reiche believed they devised a method of measurement that enabled them to make the figures and lines perfectly straight and symmetrical.

After figuring out how the lines were constructed, Dr. Reiche turned her attention to why they were made. From her knowledge of mathematics and astronomy, she felt strongly that some of the images paralleled constellations of stars, such as Orion and the Big Dipper. She also understood the way the Inca and pre-Inca people thought about the heavens. For them, the appearance and movement of the sun, the planets and the stars were viewed as the appearance and journey of their many gods. It was the role of priests to study the divine lights in order to tell the people when it was time to plant, when the rains would fall, and when the birds would migrate. The priests, then, could easily have been the ones who ordered the direction of the lines to lead to the rising and setting of the sun at summer and winter solstice, as well as spring and autumn equinox.

Since the Nazca desert receives less than 1 inch of rain a year, it was necessary for the people to dig deep wells to reach the underground water that came down from the mountains. Some of the many straight lines may also have been the paths to these wells. Because the giant pictures of animals and plants often have an entrance path into the figure, many have believed that on certain days, the priests might have led the people in procession through the labyrinth of lines into the center of the large figures, where they would pray for rain and fertility. Maria reported she sometimes found pieces of pottery inside the images, which probably means that pots of grain were left inside the figures as an offering to their gods.

To research this topic further, go to these web sites:
Lonely Planet Nazca Lines Page