Armed with satellites and drones, archaeologists discover new Nasca lines and dozens of other enigmatic geoglyphs carved into the earth.
Etched into the high desert of southern Peru more than a millennium ago, the enigmatic Nasca lines continue to capture our imagination. More than a thousand of these geoglyphs (literally, ‘ground drawings’) sprawl across the sandy soil of Nasca province, the remains of little-understood ritual practices that may have been connected to life-giving rain.
Now, Peruvian archaeologists armed with drones have discovered more than 50 new examples of these mysterious desert monuments in adjacent Palpa province, traced onto the earth’s surface in lines almost too fine to see with the human eye. In addition, archaeologists surveyed locally known geoglyphs with drones for the first time—mapping them in never-before-seen detail.
Some of the newfound lines belong to the Nasca culture, which held sway in the area from 200 to 700 A.D. However, archaeologists suspect that the earlier Paracas and Topará cultures carved many of the newfound images between 500 B.C. and 200 A.D.
Unlike the iconic Nasca lines—most of which are only visible from overhead—the older Paracas glyphs were laid down on hillsides, making them visible to villages below. The two cultures also pursued different artistic subjects: Nasca lines most often consist of lines or polygons, but many of the newfound Paracas figures depict humans.
“Most of these figures are warriors,” says Peruvian archaeologist Luis Jaime Castillo Butters, the new glyphs’ co-discoverer. “These ones could be spotted from a certain distance, so people had seen them, but over time, they were completely erased.”
Many of the newly discovered Nasca lines are too faint to be seen by the human eye, yet visible when captured in low altitude by a drone camera.
Photograph courtesy Luis Jaime Castillo, Palpa Nasca Project.
The new geoglyphs add crucial data on the Paracas culture, as well as the mysterious Topará culture, which marked the transition between the Paracas and the Nasca. Centuries before the famous Nasca lines were made, people in the region were experimenting with making massive geoglyphs.
“This means that it is a tradition of over a thousand years that precedes the famous geoglyphs of the Nasca culture, which opens the door to new hypotheses about its function and meaning,” says Peruvian Ministry of Culture archaeologist Johny Isla, the Nasca lines’ chief restorer and protector.
This newly discovered Nasca line feature, captured by a drone, consists of several straight lines with no discernible pattern which were likely made at different times and for different purposes.
Photograph courtesy Luis Jaime Castillo, Palpa Nasca Project
Ironically, the discovery of the new geoglyphs was only made possible because of threats to previously known Nasca lines.The Lines, preserved relatively intact for millennia, are perhaps the most well-known cultural site associated with Peru, along with the iconic Incan ruins of Machu Pichu. But this Latin American nation is not just a destination for budding archaeologists.
The Peruvian Amazon contains a stunning array of flora and fauna, including caiman, nightjars and capybaras; Colca Canyon – one of the deepest of its kind in the world – is home to soaring condors and herds of vicuñas; the bustling capital city of Lima has been enshrined as a UNESCO World Heritage Site; and Lake Titicaca is home to the Uru people, who live on floating islands woven from totora reeds. All this and more awaits you in Peru.
Katrina Trotter has been organising tailor-made holidays to Latin America for the past 13 years. Having lived and travelled in South America, Katrina’s extensive knowledge covers a huge range of destinations and as a result she takes enormous pride in offering sound advice and suggestions for her guests, helping them choose the destination and holiday that would suit them best. With experience in organising holidays for couples, honeymooners, families, single travellers, groups of friends and those that have wanted to experience all that Latin America has to offer, Katrina offers an exceptionally tailored, personal and professional service to access a part of the world she is unapologetically passionate about.
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