The Mysterious Nazca Lines, both an Enduring Archeological Mystery, and an Inspiration for Crackpot Thinkers Everywhere
I’m really having trouble finding ancient historical and earth mysteries to write about. So so so many of them turn out to be not so mysterious. The Coso Artifact, a million year old spark plug? Nope, a 1920s spark plug. The Kensington Stone, proof Vikings made it to Minnesota before Columbus? Nope, proof Scandinavian hoaxers were active in Minnesota in the nineteenth century. It’s depressing, especially when so many web sites repeat incredible and long refuted claims as if they were fact. Still, there is some wheat amid the chaff. And some of that wheat is the Nazca Lines. The lines are real, they were made by a pre-Columbian peoples, and they are mysterious.
OK, what are the Nazca Lines? Well, there’s this big dry desert in Peru. It’s covered with rocks. One scrapes away the rocks and exposes the white soil, and voila, a Nazca Line. And since it only rains a few minutes a year there, the lines have lasted over 1,000 years. They depict all sorts of things, plants, animals, geometric forms. Above is a dog or dog-like thing. The artists were clearly not striving for verisimilitude, the drawings tend to be very stylized. And for the record, there’s nothing mysterious about their construction, they were easily made by modest numbers of people using the simplest of tools. Nor is there anything unexplained about what the lines depict, there are no dinosaurs, aliens, or high technology depicted.
What is mysterious is why they were made. The people making them couldn’t fly so they had no way of “seeing” they animals and such they were drawing. Were they drawing meant to be seen by Gods? That’s about the best anyone has come up with so far. And the attendant idea that there may have been rituals involved. In other words, they were big outdoor churches or something along those lines. Works for me. At least one archaeologist has claimed the lines functioned as some sort of observatory. Few if any experts in archeoastronomy agree, so that idea didn’t get off the ground so to speak. After that the ideas get a lot fringier a lot faster. Yes, Von Däniken popularized the idea that UFOs had something to do with the Nazca lines. Since there’s no evidence for this, and no mysteries about how the lines were constructed, I think we can safely rule UFOs out.
It’s also been suggested that the Nazca had hot air balloons, and thus could see the lines from the sky as they were supposed to be seen. On the one hand, the Nazca people did have fabrics that would have been suitable for making balloons. And it’s not exactly rocket science to build a hot air balloon. However, the complete absence of anything even remotely resembling a balloon depicted anywhere in South America’s archaeological record makes that idea pretty hard to swallow. Not impossible, but until we find a rock carving of a balloon or one preserved in a tomb or some such, I think the balloon idea can safely be ruled out.
Finally, the question remains, why go through all that trouble? I mean, these figures and lines cover a huge area, tens of square miles. Did people really need to go through all that trouble for ritual purposes? Well, they thought so. Here I can only point to the fact that it’s not unusual in many ancient cultures for there to have been huge construction projects with little or no practical purpose behind them. And it’s not hard from there to conclude that the real purpose was to keep the unwashed masses busy so they didn’t have time to sit around and wonder why the priests and leaders got all the good stuff while the peasants laboured. Granted, this may not have been the conscious plan, the priests may have actually believed that they were guaranteeing that the crops would grow and the Sun would rise by having these figures and lines etched into the land.
Can people really be that illogical? Yes, yes they can. For example, tens of millions of Americans, a modern people with a modern educational system (or so we are told,) literally believe that the Earth is just 7,000 years old and that people and dinosaurs co-existed. And they believe this because it says so in the Bible., despite the overwhelming incontrovertible evidence that it just aint so. In other words it’s perfectly normal for huge segments of even “modern” cultures to believe in superstitious nonsense, so there’s no reason to get too worked up if it appears to be what happened in some ancient culture. It follows then that superstition is a perfectly reasonable explanation for the Nazca lines, even if we don’t know the exact details of their beliefs.
My theory, after seeing the dog above, is that the Nazca were trying to make God laugh.
(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit, it is central to illustrating the post, and the original artist has been dead for over 1,000 years. I apologize for not getting a post out Monday, I was delayed on a business trip. Coming next, maybe some nice history posts as I munch popcorn and wait for the fireworks to begin in Iran.)