Since the Nazca
Lines were discovered in the 1930s, not one single theory has been
put forward to explain all of the marks on the desert plain. A prominent
scientist has called it 'one of the most baffling enigmas of archaeology'.
However, I have recently completed an extensive worldwide study
of ancient cultures which offers some intriguing new insights into
this archaeological enigma.
Why have the
Nazca Lines proved such an insoluble mystery? The reason lies in
the sheer variety of designs, which include around 300 pictures,
commonly referred to as 'geoglyphs'. Some of the better known of
these figures are shown to scale in Figure 1. The relative sizes
of the spider, monkey, condor and lizard (among others) can be judged
against the largest figure - a stylised heron with a zigzag neck,
approximately 900 feet long. However, as diverse as these geoglyphs
are, others are different again, consisting of totally abstract
shapes. And even among the abstract designs, there is diversity.
Whilst one design in particular contains no less than 365 angles,
others, in the form of spirals, contain no angles at all.
Figure 1 - Nazca Geoglyphs
(Adapted from M.Reiche, 1968)
recognisable animal geoglyphs draw most of the attention at Nazca,
they are in fact dwarfed by the huge trapezoidal (wedge-like) designs
such as the one shown in Figure 2. Some of these wedges have sides
more than 2,500 feet long. The wedges, in turn, are outdone by the
lines themselves, which run perfectly straight for up to 5 miles.
Figure 2 - Nazca Lines wedge shape
What could have
been the purpose of all these diverse lines and geoglyphs? 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.
Figure 3 - Nazca Lines Overview
Seen as a whole
(Figure 3), the Nazca Lines appear to be a jumbled mess, scattered
seemingly at random over the desolate plain, crossing and intersecting
for no apparent reason. In some places, carefully drawn geoglyphs
have been partly obliterated by the huge wedges. Furthermore, there
is a great contrast between some drawings which have been perfectly
executed, and others which have been sloppily drawn. More puzzling
still, many of the images are so big that they can only be viewed
from the air at a height of 1,000 feet. By whom were the lines and
figures intended to be seen?
In 1969, Erich
von Daniken floated the idea that airborne extraterrestrials might
have laid out the lines as runways for their aircraft. However,
his imaginative theory ran into a number of problems. First, it
is claimed that the soil is not hard enough to sustain repeated
landings of heavy aerial craft. Secondly, why did the alleged extraterrestrials
not design something far more sophisticated? Thirdly, many lines
are only 3 feet wide - too narrow for aircraft. In addition, von
Daniken has failed to explain the meaning or purpose of the animal
expert on the Nazca Lines is undoubtedly Maria Reiche, a German
mathematician who has devoted more than fifty years of her life
to the study and protection of the Lines. Reiche has led a determined
effort to discredit the von Daniken theory of extraterrestrials.
The strategy of this attack has been to argue that the Nazca Indians
constructed the Lines relatively recently - some time between 300
BC and AD 800. In support of this possibility, some scientists have
put forward ingenious ideas on how the geoglyphs could theoretically
have been designed from the ground. The more important evidence,
however, is that which attempts to link the Lines definitively to
the Nazcan culture. Here, neither of the two key pieces of evidence
survive close scrutiny.
The first piece
of evidence is a series of radiocarbon dates, based on ceramic and
wood remains which were left at the Lines by the Nazcan people.
It is claimed that this proves that the Nazcans constructed the
Lines. On the contrary, the dating of these materials tells us only
that the Nazcans lived in the area of the Lines. Since the Lines
themselves cannot be radiocarbon dated, the possibility remains
that they already existed when the Nazcan culture emerged.
The second piece
of evidence is the alleged resemblance of the Nazca geoglyphs to
certain features found on Nazcan pottery. This is an important issue
because it potentially offers proof that the Nazcans had either
designed the images or at least viewed them from the air.
Figure 4 shows
four examples of Nazcan pottery exhibited by the museum in the nearby
city of Ica. The first supposedly matches the lizard in Figure 1;
the second supposedly matches the spider; the third supposedly matches
the hummingbird (top left of Figure 1); and the fourth supposedly
matches the whale (bottom right of Figure 1). In all cases the similarities
are tenuous and key points of detail from the highly stylised geoglyphs
are different or missing on the pottery. Five other examples (not
shown here) are equally tenuous. In their eagerness to disprove
the von Daniken theory, the experts seem to have forgotten that
it is quite normal for ancient artists to reproduce figures of birds,
insects, reptiles and sea creatures. If the judgement of these experts
had not been so clouded, they might have wondered why the Nazcans
did not decorate their pottery with the more unusual designs of
the Nazca plain - the wedges, the intersecting lines and the abstract
Figure 4 - Nazca Pottery
How does Maria
Reiche explain the purpose of the Nazca Lines? Although Reiche admits
not to have reached a definite conclusion, she leans heavily towards
the theory that they represent an astronomical calendar. She claims
that the Nazcans used the lines and figures to measure the key points
of the solar year to assist with agricultural planning. However,
Reiche's theory, like von Daniken's, has collapsed under the overwhelming
weight of logical argument stacked against it.
In 1968, a study
by the National Geographic Society determined that, whilst some
of the Nazca lines did point to the positions of the Sun, Moon and
certain stars two thousand years ago, it was no more than could
be expected by mere chance. In 1973, Dr Gerald Hawkins studied 186
lines with a computer programme and found that only 20 per cent
had any astronomical orientation - again no more than by pure chance.
In 1982, Anthony Aveni obtained similar results, whilst in 1980,
Georg Petersen pointed out that Reiche's theory did not explain
the different lengths and widths of the lines. More recently, Johan
Reinhard has noted that the surrounding mountains provided a ready-made
and much more effective mechanism for the Nazcans to use as a solar
calendar; the lines would thus have been quite superfluous to them.
In addition to this avalanche of scientific opinion, we should also
note that Reiche, like von Daniken, has failed to explain the significance
of the animal geoglyphs.
How else might
we explain the Nazca Lines? They were certainly not Inca roads,
since many lines begin and end in mid-desert, and they were certainly
not irrigation canals, since most of them do not lead to sources
of water. With all possible practical purposes exhausted, many writers
have begun to focus on the symbolism of the lines and figures. All
manner of religious cults have now been suggested - ancestor cults,
water cults, fertility cults and mountain cults.
proponent of the cult theory is Johan Reinhard, who has identified
many lines leading to religious shrines, water sources or mountains.
Reinhard has argued convincingly that the Nazcans worshipped the
mountains, but why would they worship inanimate objects? Reinhard
noted a widespread belief amongst ancient Andean cultures that various
gods - whom they revered as their ancestors - resided in the mountains.
These gods controlled the weather and hence the water supply which
determined the fertility of crops and livestock. Reinhard added
that the chief god Viracocha was closely associated with both mountains
How does the
worship of mountain-gods explain the Nazca Lines? Johan Reinhard
detailed various ancient traditions, according to which the mountain-gods
took to the skies in the form of eagles or condors. As Reinhard
explains, this cult theory explains the single most significant
aspect of the Nazca Lines:
figures can be best seen only from the air is explainable as being
due to the ability of the mountain deities to oversee the area,
such as appearing as birds or in the form of the flying feline.'
Could this be
a vital clue towards solving the mystery?
world, ancient peoples were obsessed with Sky-gods who would fight
battles in the Sky and descend to the Earth. In my books 'The Phoenix
Solution' and 'When The Gods Came Down', I revealed that these
Sky-gods were associated with the disintegration of a celestial
'mountain', with the depictions of such a mountain symbolising an
exploded planet, and with the term 'mountain' thus referring metaphorically
to 'planet'. In short, I concluded, beyond any reasonable doubt,
that the religions of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia were 'exploded
Might my decoding
of the ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian mountain-gods enable us
to solve the mystery of the Nazcan mountain-gods? In short, might
the Nazcans, too, have followed an exploded planet cult? At the
moment, the jury is out on this question, but it strikes me that
such a cult would certainly explain the profound religious beliefs
which evidently inspired the Nazcans to draw their astounding array
of lines and geoglyphs.
As for the mystery
of how the Nazcans managed to raze mountain tops and draw perfectly
straight lines over ravines, it must be said that these achievements,
whilst being totally awesome, are no more awesome than the achievements
of other ancient peoples elsewhere in the world, the Great Pyramid
of Giza being a notable example. The important question, then, is
not whether ancient man could have performed these miraculous works,
for it is quite clear that at some point in time he did. Instead,
the vital question should concern the impulse which drove ancient
man to reach beyond his everyday limits in order to service his
What could that
impulse have been? Unless we are to postulate a Von Daniken type
theory (and the odds must be stacked against that, at any one point
in time), our best guess must surely be that the Nazcans derived
their gods from their experiences of fireballs in the sky and meteorites
falling to the Earth.
to be continued...)
E. von Daniken, 'Chariots of the Gods', Souvenir Press, 1969, first
published in German 1968.
M. Reiche, 'Mystery on the Desert', 1st edition, Heinrich Fink GmbH,
J. Reinhard, 'The Nazca Lines', 5th edition, Lima, 1993, pp. 12-56.
A.F. Alford, 'The Phoenix Solution' 1998 & 'When The Gods Came
Down' (2000), both by Hodder & Stoughton, London.