Nazca lines, grand designs

Magnificent, mysterious and marvellous geoglyphs in the coastal desert of Peru

Nazca lines, grand designs
23rd September 2010 Jane Tomlinson

On a high desert plateau in the west of Peru are a spectacular series of massive geoglyphs known as the Nazca lines.

The dry and windless climate has preserved the geoglyphs in superb condition. They were made sometime between 400 and 650 AD by the long-gone Nazca people, possibly as part of a water cult. No one really knows what they were for,  but you can imagine how their mystery has generated some crackpot theories.

The designs were made quite simply by removing the surface pebbles to expose the lighter coloured ground beneath. But what planning and artistry it involved; for the images are in many case hundreds of metres long and only visible from the air!

As well as lines and triangles, the creators made images of birds and animals. Earlier this month in Peru we took to the air over Nazca to see these unique geopglyphs for ourselves.

Here’s the monkey, complete with big wiggly fingers and curly prehensile tail:

nazca lines monkey

And a lovely big fat spider:

nazca lines spider

And for me, the most beautiful of all, singled out on the edge of the plateau, the gorgeous hummingbird:

Like the art of so many ancient cultures – for example, the bulls on the cave walls at Lascaux, the San rock art of southern Africa – the people of Nazca have captured the spirit and beauty of the animals they pictured with breathtaking simplicity.

The morning after our flight I was delighted to be woken early by a number of long-tailed mockingbirds, noisily picking fruit from the palms in the garden of our lodge:

Photos: Moth Clark