Nazca Lines

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Scratch images at Nazca
UNESCO world heritage UNESCO World Heritage Emblem

Animal figure
National territory: PeruPeru Peru
Type: Culture
Criteria : i, iii, iv
Reference No .: 700
UNESCO region : Latin America and the Caribbean
History of enrollment
Enrollment: 1994  (session 18)

Coordinates: 14 ° 43 ′ 14 ″  S , 75 ° 9 ′ 1 ″  W

Map: Peru
Nazca Lines

The Nazca Lines , often also spelled Nasca Lines , are over 1,500 huge scratches ( geoglyphs ) in the desert near Nazca and Palpa in Peru , only visible and recognizable from the air . The lines, the desert and the culture are named after the city of Nazca, which is not far from the plain. The originators of the lines are the Paracas culture and the Nazca culture . The Nazca plain shows dead straight lines, triangles and trapezoidal areas as well as figures with a size of about ten to several hundred meters, z. B. Images of people, monkeys, birds and whales. Often the figure-forming lines are only a few centimeters deep. Due to their enormous size, they can only be seen from a great distance, from the surrounding hills or from airplanes.

A systematic exploration and measurement together with archaeological excavations between 2004 and 2009 in the area and partly in the lines could clarify their origin and their purpose with a high degree of probability: These are therefore designs within the framework of fertility rituals that took place between 800 BC. BC and AD 600 and were caused by periodic climatic fluctuations . Modern archeology assumes that the Nazca Lines were action areas for rituals related to water and fertility.

Texture and age

The pictures were created by removing the upper layer of rock, which is covered by desert varnish (negative relief). This desert varnish consists of a rust-red mixture of iron and manganese oxides . This brings out the lighter sediment mixture and forms beige-yellow lines. Sometimes lines were also marked by piling stones from the surrounding area (positive relief).

Based on archaeological comparisons of the images in the pampas with motifs on ceramics from the Nazca period, it has long been assumed that the geoglyphs in the time of the Nazca culture between 200 BC. BC and AD 600, but today the Paracas period of 800 BC is considered to be the time of origin of the oldest figures . Until 200 BC The creators of the scribble images lived in the valleys of the Río Nazca , Río Palpa and Río Ingenio . The pyramid city of Cahuáchi is said to have been a religious center of the Nazca culture. As an explanation for the long settlement period, Italian researchers around Rosa Lasaponara suspect a system of underground water channels with funnel-shaped accesses (puquios) , which made underground water-bearing layers usable for irrigation and stored them in reservoirs.

Discoveries and research history

Nazca Lines near Nazca , Peru
Nazca Lines in the Nazca Desert between Nacza and Palpa (satellite image, right is north). The green areas are fields at Changuillo and El Ingenio. The diagonal line that meets the lower edge of the picture is the Panamericana .

The Spanish conquistador Pedro de Cieza de León reported in his Chronicle of Peru (1553) about the Nazca lines, but he mistakenly interpreted them as road markers. The Spanish administrator ( Corregidor ) Luis Monzón, who mentioned the lines in 1586, thought they were remnants of old streets.

The complete figures can only be seen from the air . In this sense, the Nazca Lines were only discovered in the 1920s or at the latest in the 1930s, when planes regularly flew over the Nazca Desert. The observations of pilots and passengers did not trigger any intensive research at first.

Nazca Lines were first scientifically described in 1926. This year Alfred Kroeber explored the ceramics of the Nazca culture on his Peru expedition. But he also noticed the lines in the ground and described some of them. His texts, photographs and drawings are probably the first documentation of the Nazca Lines, but they were only published in 1998.

Around the same time - 1926 or 1927 - the Peruvian archaeologist Toribio Mejía Xesspe discovered straight lines, zigzag lines and trapezoids while hiking in the surrounding hills. He interpreted the lines as roads with a religious meaning. Mejía Xesspe presented his findings at a conference in Lima in 1939.

Historian Paul Kosok of Long Island University in Brooklyn came to Peru in 1940 to study ancient irrigation systems. He realized that the Nazca Lines could not be an irrigation system as they mostly ran straight as a dead line over hills and depressions. During a flight over the area he recognized a bird figure. Coincidentally, he and his wife were watching the sunset from a hill at the time of the solstice on June 21, 1941. They noticed that one of the long lines emanating from their location pointed exactly in the direction of the sunset. Kosok was enthusiastic about this discovery and believed that he had found the solution to the riddle. A little later he considered the Nazca plain to be "the greatest astronomy book in the world".

Maria Reiche , who studied mathematician and physicist, met Paul Kosok in Lima when he was looking for a Spanish translator for his English texts. Reiche became Kosok's assistant. After a hiatus because of the Second World War, she continued Kosok's approach of seeing a huge astronomical calendar in the lines and figures. She measured countless lines with a tape measure, sextant and compass, and later also with a theodolite . She cleaned up the partly hidden lines, discovered more and more figures, drew them, looked for connections with the course of the sun and the stars. Through their passionate work, the Nazca Lines became known worldwide. Until the end of her life in 1998 she worked tirelessly for the protection and preservation of these desert figures and tried to interpret them. Many of the figures were destroyed by footprints and car tracks. Through the initiative of the Reich, the Peruvian government took measures to prevent further destruction. At Maria Reich's instigation, the geoglyphs were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1994 as "Lines and floor drawings of Nasca and Pampa de Jumana" .

In 2005 about 50 more were found from 600 BC. Until 100 BC Scratch images created in an area of ​​around 145 km² were systematically recorded for the first time.

As a result of research by the German Archaeological Institute , settlements, graves, petroglyphs and geoglyphs in the region were systematically recorded and some sites were excavated for the first time. Unexpectedly, despite harsh climatic conditions, the area was from the early Formative period, from around 1500 BC. Chr., Continuously populated until contact with Spaniards (1532). Geoglyphs were first discovered in the Paracas period from 800 to 200 BC. They reached their climax in the early and middle Nasca period between the turn of the ages and 450. From 600 geoglyphs were no longer created. Settlements, graves and small stone buildings were found on the plateau directly on the lines in which offerings were made. The excavators call them "temples". In addition, were postholes found.

In 2011, Japanese scientists discovered 138 more hills and lines, including two figures depicting a human head and an animal. Since they are relatively small, they were hardly visible from the plane.

In the meantime, 89 km² of the pampas around Palpa and 1500 geoglyphs have been photogrammetrically measured at the ETH Zurich in collaboration with the Commission for Archeology of Non-European Cultures of the German Archaeological Institute and 639 of them are precisely described and classified.

Today, artifacts are precisely measured and researched with a remote-controlled special model helicopter and GPS .


A wide variety of theories and hypotheses have been developed to explain the question of why the mysterious Nazca Lines were created. Markus Reindel, Nazca specialist at the German Archaeological Institute, speaks of a "myriad of partly fantastic hypotheses". The interpretations are predominantly based on a religious background. Some explanations assume a connection with irrigation systems or the importance of water in the dry environment, others see a connection to astronomy. There are connections between the directions of some lines and solstice points .

Before aviation gave a better view of the Nazca Lines, they were thought to be paths or old roads, or at least trail markers. Only a closer look suggested a religious meaning. Toribio Mejía Xesspe, who was the first to systematically deal with the pictures in 1926/1927, interpreted them as “great artifacts of the Inca ceremonies ” - and the lines as roads for religious acts. The animal figures now appeared as paths on which offerings may have been deposited.

The experimental archaeologist Jim Woodman started from the idea that the lines and scratches of Nazca only make sense when viewed from the air. He put forward the thesis that the Inca were already able to build a mixture of a hot air balloon and a solar balloon . A kind of fire pit at the ends of many lines could have been used to heat the air in a balloon. Using available materials of traditional legends and with the help of engineers, he reconstructed a replica, the Condor I . With the Condor I's voyage over the Nazca plain in 1975, he attempted to confirm his thesis. On board were Jim Woodman himself and the hot air balloon pilot Julian Nott. In 1977 Woodman published the book Nazca: Journey to the Sun , which also appeared in German translation. A large number of objections have been raised against Woodman's argument, starting with his initial consideration: namely, aviation is not necessary to be able to see the lines and figures. At least parts of it can be seen from the heights, which Toribio Mejia Xesspe has proven through his discovery of the lines. There is no concrete evidence of the alleged use of balloons and no traces of fireplaces that were large enough to heat the air in the balloons to the point of flight.

August Steimann, who studied geoglyphs in the 1970s, put forward a similar hypothesis as Woodman. In the straight lines he saw walkways, on which helpers pulled manned tethered kites into the air. It is “conceivable” that people would fly around freely after take-off, like with a hang glider . The figures on the ground might have served them as a guide.

Georg von Breunig published analyzes of the Nazca Lines from 1980, initially in the Venezuelan journal Interciencia . He interpreted the Nazca plateau as a gigantic sports arena - like Hoimar von Ditfurth .

Helmut Tributsch from the FU Berlin suddenly saw a lake while observing the Nazca Lines due to a mirage . Thereupon he was convinced that the inhabitants of the area had tried "symbolically" with the help of the lines to divert the water, simulated by such mirages, from the desert. He published his hypothesis on the connection between Fata Morgana experiences and the emergence of religious cults in 1983 and later applied it to other cultures as well.

The posts that stuck in the post holes on the lines are now interpreted as visual marks. The lines and figures together with the associated visual marks and buildings (“temples”) are interpreted as “ritual landscapes”, as sacred places of the Nasca culture. Since the Paracas period, severe desertification began on the plateau . The adobe buildings were badly damaged in the event of irregular floods and floods. Since the geoglyphs were created during the climate change and the finds in the structures presumed to be temples were assessed in connection with fertility, the entire complex is interpreted as the remains of fertility rituals.

The first systematic field study of geoglyphs was carried out by archaeologists Markus Reindel and Johny Isla Cuadrado. Since 1996 they have documented more than 650 sites. They compared the iconography of lines with the ceramics of cultures. They assume that the figurative motifs of the geoglyphs to a period between 600 and 200 BC. Can be dated.

An investigation by Nicola Masini and Giuseppe Orefici in the Pampa de Atarco near the ceremonial center of Cahuachi revealed a spatial, functional and religious relationship between the geoglyphs and the temples of Cahuachi. Using satellite remote sensing techniques, Italian researchers discovered and analyzed five groups of geoglyphs that are characterized by different motifs, patterns and functions. The most important are characterized by meander or zigzag motifs with a clear ceremonial function, trapezoids and lines that converge towards the Cahuachi pyramids.


Depiction of a hummingbird , length approx. 90 m
Scratching pattern in the form of a monkey (with spread fingers and a tail rolled into a large spiral)
Representation of a spider
Scratching image called an " astronaut "


More animal figures

Other figures

Damage to the geoglyphs

Heavy precipitation (usually in connection with El Niño ) occasionally causes damage to individual lines.

In December 2014, footprints were left in the immediate vicinity of the hummingbird as part of a PR campaign by Greenpeace on the occasion of the climate summit in Lima . This action, which was heavily criticized by the media and state institutions, also drew renewed attention to the damage to geoglyphs, in some cases over a large area, outside the UNESCO World Heritage Site, which had been caused by the Dakar Rally in 2012 and 2013 .

In January 2018, a 100 m deep lane of a truck was reported that damaged several lines. The truck driver was stopped by guards and, according to the Ministry of Culture, has to await a court case.

Nazca culture

In addition to the desert lines, there are rich remains of settlements, textiles, bones, mummies and ceramic finds that bring us closer to the culture of the Paracas and the Nazca. In the meantime, numerous archaeological cross-references have been established between these groups of artifacts.


  • Anthony F. Aveni (Ed.): The Lines of Nazca . American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia 1990, ISBN 0-87169-183-3
  • Anthony F. Aveni: Solving the Mystery of the Nasca Lines . Archeology, Vol. 53, No. 3, May / June 2000, abstract
  • Dietrich Schulze, Viola Zetzsche: Picture book of the desert. Maria Reiche and the floor drawings of Nasca . Mitteldeutscher Verlag, Halle 2005, ISBN 978-3-89812-298-6 . Paperback edition: Mitteldeutscher Verlag, Halle 2014, ISBN 978-3-95462-120-0 , publisher's information on the book
  • Viola Zetzsche: The riddle of the pampas . In: National Geographic , Verlag Gruner and Jahr, Hamburg 2005
  • Viola Zetzsche: remote controlled archeology . In: Adventure Archeology , Verlag Spektrum der Wissenschaft, Heidelberg, October 2005, PDF download
  • Viola Zetzsche: A model helicopter over sunken cities . In: Ancient World , Verlag Philipp v. Zabern, Mainz 2006, volume 1
  • Karsten Lambers: The Geoglyphs of Palpa, Peru. Documentation, Analysis, and Interpretation . Lindensoft-Verlag, Aichwald 2006, ISBN 3-929290-32-4
  • Martin Sauerbier: GIS-based management and analysis of the geoglyphs in the Palpa region . ETH (2009). doi: 10.3929 / ethz-a-005940066 .
  • Markus Reindel, Günther A. Wagner (Eds.): Natural Science in Archeology, New Technologies for Archeology, Multidisciplinary Investigations in Palpa and Nasca, Peru. Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2009, ISBN 978-3-642-09954-0
  • Maria Reiche : Secret of the Desert , Stuttgart, 1980
  • Masini Nicola, Orefici Giuseppe et al .: Cahuachi and Pampa de Atarco: Towards Greater Comprehension of Nasca Geoglyphs. In: R. Lasaponara, N. Masini, G. Orefici (eds.): The Ancient Nasca World New Insights from Science and Archeology. Springer International Publishing, 2016, pp. 239-278.

Web links

Commons : Nazca Lines  - album with pictures, videos and audio files


Individual evidence

  1. ^ A b c Katherine Reece: Grounding the Nasca Balloon
  2. a b c d Archaeological Project Nasca-Palpa, Peru German Archaeological Institute
  3. ^ No ancient rocket ramp: archaeologist deciphered the secret of the geoglyphs of Nasca, September 10, 2009.
  4. The ancient peruvian mystery solved from space, April 8, 2016.
  5. For comparison: satellite image on Google Maps . North is up here.
  6. Pedro de Cieza de León Chronica del Peru (1553), edition Antwerp 1558 , p. 141. Quotation: y por algunas partes delos arenales se veen señales, paraque atinen el camino que han de lleuar (“and in some areas of the desert are To see signs so that they [= the Indios] find the way they have to take ”).
  7. Luis Monzón: Descripcion de la tierra del repartimiento de los rucanas antamarcas de la corona real, jurisdicion de la ciudad de Guamanga. año de 1586. Quoted in: Marcos Jiménez de la Espada (ed.), Relaciones geográficas de Indias: Peru , Volume 1, Madrid 1881, pp. 197-216, here p. 210.
  8. ^ A b Jason Golomb: Nasca Lines
  9. ^ A b Owen Jarus: Nazca Lines: Mysterious Geoglyphs in Peru, August 14, 2012.
  10. a b Archaeological Project Nasca-Palpa, Peru German Archaeological Institute, see menu item History .
  11. ^ Alfred L. Kroeber, Donald Collier: The Archeology and Pottery of Nazca, Peru. Alfred L. Kroeber's 1926 expedition. Rowman Altamira, 1998, p. 20 (see excerpts from Google Books ).
  12. a b Bernd Teichert: The geoglyphs of Nasca: Is the astronomical theory of the lines and figures of Nasca still relevant?, October 11, 2007
  13. ^ Jack McClintock: The Nasca Lines Solution: Demystifying South America's gigantic archaeological puzzle In: Discover , December 1, 2000.
  14. Toribio Mejía Xesspe: Acueductos y caminos antiguos de la hoya del Río Grande de Nazca , in: Actas y Trabajos Cientificos del 27 Congreso Internacional de Americanistas 1939 (1): 559-669.
  15. ^ Helaine Silverman, Donald Proulx: The Nasca . Blackwell Publishing 2002.
  16. ^ Anthony F. Aveni, Helaine Silverman: Between the Lines. Reading the Nazca Markings as Rituals Writ Large. In: The Sciences , July / August 1991, pp. 36-42, here p. 36 ( online ).
  17. New scratch images discovered in Peru, February 15, 2011.
  18. Pictures of the Condor I
  19. Flying Kon-Tiki launched, December 22, 1975.
  20. Jim Woodman: Nazca - with the Inca balloon to the sun . Bertelsmann. Munich 1977. See review in Spiegel , January 31, 1977.
  21. The geoglyphs - evidence of a South American history of the fettered kite? Website of the Otto Lilienthal Museum
  22. ^ Georg von Breunig: A Pre Columbian Olympic Site? In: Interciencia , July / August 1980, pp. 209-219.
  23. ^ Georg von Breunig: The Nazca Lines . In: Interciencia , January / February 1981, pp. 6-7.
  24. ^ Georg von Breunig: The Nazca Lines . In: Interciencia , May / June 1981, pp. 133-134.
  25. Georg von Breunig: Were the Nazca residents runners? Interview in the bilingual cultural magazine Khipu , June 1982, pp. 20–29.
  26. ^ Georg von Breunig: Nazca, A Gigantic Sports Arena? A New Approach For Explaining The Origin Of The Desert Markings In The Basin Of Rio Grande In Southern Peru . In: Occassional Publications in Anthropology , University of Northern Colorado , 1983, pp. 50-90.
  27. Hoimar von Ditfurth: Why man became a hit . In the magazine GEO, das neue Bild der Erde , Dec. 1981, pp. 118-134.
  28. Hoimar von Ditfurth: Why man became a hit. Competitive athletes provide information about early human behavior . In Incomprehensible Reality , Hamburg 1987, pp. 65–77.
  29. Helmut Tributsch: The riddle of the gods: Fata Morgana . Ullstein, Berlin 1983.
  30. Helmut Tributsch: When the mountains still had wings: The Fata Morgana in ancient cultures, myths and religions . Ullstein, Berlin 1996.
  31. ^ Reindel and Wagner, 2009
  32. Masini and Orefici et al., 2016
  33. Fuertes lluvias afectan las Líneas de Nasca, en Perú, January 21, 2009.
  34. Greenpeace sorry for Nazca lines stunt in Peru, December 11, 2014.
  35. Ralf Hesse: Using Landsat images to assess the impact of the 2013 Dakar rally in the Nazca-Ica sector of the Peruvian coast blogxBP, April 27, 2013.
  36. ^ Peruvians Spar Over Protecting Ancient Sites The Wall Street Journal, December 28, 2014.
  37. Truck driver drives over world-famous Nasca lines, January 31, 2018.