The Nazca lines are legendary. Stretching across 400 square miles of high arid plateau are drawings of hundreds of figures. They range from giant spiders to vast geometric shapes to enormous monkeys as large as 890ft, or roughly the size two and a half football fields. Hummingbirds, fish, sharks or orcas, llamas, and lizards -- and according to some, astronauts, aliens and landing zones -- are all represented in these enormous line drawings.
One of the most discussed and tantalizingly mysterious archeological sites, these lines have spawned more wild theories then they have answered questions about the ancient Peruvian peoples that made them. One significant reason piques interest in the drawings: the drawings can only be fully seen from a few hundred feet in the air, meaning that the people who created them, never would have had a way to see them in full... unless of course, you believe they did.
Due to the mystery surrounding their exact purpose and the fact that they can only be fully seen from the sky, the lines are of particular attraction to new-agers, ancient astronaut theorists, and alien enthusiasts, much to the frustration of the anthropologists, archaeologists, and astronomers who have studied the lines and hope to provide credible answers to their purpose and creation.
Made between 200 BC and 600 AD, -- the time of the Nazca people, a head hunting, ceremonial drug taking, technologically sophisticated peoples, are believed to have created the lines -- the lines were created by scraping a 10 to 30cm layer of iron oxide off of the dry desert floor. Due to the incredible dryness and consistent weather of the area this was all it took to create images that have lasted for well over 1500 years.
The most likely construction method involves putting stakes in the ground, tying a rope between them and scraping the dirt off along the rope. This would explain the geometric shape of many of the lines, as well as how they Nazca would have kept the measurements for the drawings in ratio to each other, by simply multiplying the measurements of a drawing into rope lengths. Wooden stakes found in the ground at the end of some lines support this theory of creation. However the real mystery comes not in the how, but in the why?
The explanation most in keeping with what is known about the Nazca culture, is that the lines were made to be walked upon as a sort of ceremonial procession, that led to a sacred area where the Nazca prayed to various gods involving agriculture and water. The shapes, then were never meant to be seen at all, and it was only with the advent of modern airplanes that they were.
Another viable suggestion is that the Nazca lines might have been meant to be seen by the gods. A sort of first SETI program, they said "we are here! You in the sky, are you out there?" Others believe that the lines were a giant astronomical calendar and pointed to the locations where celestial bodies would align themselves. However, archaeoastronomists who examined the site in 2000 dismissed this claim as insufficiently supported.
The wildest and least sensible, but certainty one of the most seductive and popular, theories involves ancient aliens or astronauts who communicated with the ancient Peruvians and used the lines as navigational devices or even landing fields for some type of ancient astronaut.
An alternative explanation is that the Nazca did indeed have a way to see the drawings from the air: hot air balloons. Recently, Jim Woodmann a proponent of the Nazca hot air balloon theory managed to build one using materials and techniques that the Nazca would have had available. However, there is no evidence that, besides it being possilbe, that the Nazca ever built or had hot air balloons. Hot air balloonist argue that the Nazca were a technologically advanced society and point to their building of an impressive system of underground aqueducts, known as puquios, that still function today.
However despite being examined by numerous anthropologists, archaeologists, and astronomers, not to mention new-agers, ancient astronaut theorists, and alien enthusiasts, we may never truly know what the Nazca lines were meant for, or how the Nazca people intended them to be seen. What we do know, is that they are fascinating.