As I stepped out onto the tarmac, my stomach twisted violently. Ahead of me the little airplane glinted in the sunlight, and the pilot stood beckoning me towards the cockpit – I’d be riding up front, with him. As I climbed in, my knees knocked into the electronic dashboard, and a paper bag hung ominously within grabbing distance. It was time to fly.
I was in Nazca, Peru, in a four passenger plane about to lift off to view the mysterious Nazca Lines. Created by the Nazca people, who thrived in southern Peru and northern Chile from 200 B.C. through 600 A.D., the Nazca Lines are a series of geoglyphs etched into the sand in one of the driest deserts on earth.
As we flew over the arid landscape, the plane banked sharply from side to side to give us the best views of the shapes scratched into the earth below. Covering an area of more than 200 square miles, the geoglyphs range in size from 80 feet to over 200 feet and represent an array of designs – a trapezoid, spider, monkey, hummingbird, tree, human hands and what looks uncannily like a modern-day astronaut. Due to their vast size, the shapes are only fully recognizable from the sky.
From a vantage point that the Nazca people were never able to use, it’s amazing to see the enormity of the project they undertook. Seeing their designs, still so vivid 2,000 years after they were created, brought the people of Nazca to life for me. I could see them, struggling in the blinding desert sun to create beautiful visions of birds and humanity that will last as long as the earth will let them.
The survival of these designs over time is a testament to the harshness of the atmosphere – no other culture has managed to thrive here and destroy what was once created so artfully – but it’s also a testament to the creativity and values of the lost Nazca people. It is easy to feel their sense of worship for their landscape, even from the sky.
Theories about the origins of the Nazca Lines run the gamut -astrological calendars, irrigation ditches, ceremonial prayer pathways and the infamous landing strips for alien spacecraft are some of the most popular. Their true nature has always remained a mystery, but scientists are coming closer to understanding their purpose. As National Geographic reports, the answers can be found on the ground, rather than from the sky.
By April Darcy