Archaeologists uncover an imaginary creature among the Nazca lines of Peru

Experts have discovered a new geoglyph 30 meters (100 feet) long among the Nazca lines on an arid plateau in Peru that experts say depicts an imaginary animal with a long tongue. Archaeologists say the rock carving may date back 2,000 years.

The ancient people created the image by removing stones and piling them up, according to Andina.com. This technique dates back 2,000 to 2,500 years, said Masato Sakai of Japan’s Yamagata University. Dr. Sakai is leading the study of the Nazca lines with a Peruvian archaeologist, Jorge Alano.

The figure’s left side shows possibly a head with the long tongue. On the right side is what the archaeologists are interpreting as a body with legs. Dr. Sakai told National Geographic magazine he thinks the design is of an imaginary creature rather than one from nature.

Dr. Sakai said two other geoglyphs from the same area found in 2011 show two human-like figures in a decapitation scene.

“Taking into account there is an ancient path, between the two geoglyphs heading to the Cahuachi ceremonial site we might say the figures are linked to a pilgrimage way to such religious place,” Dr. Sakai is quoted as saying.

Located in the arid Peruvian coastal plain, some 400 km (248 miles) south of Lima near the town of Nasca, the geoglyphs cover 450 km2 (280 square miles). They are among archaeology’s greatest enigmas because of their quantity, nature, size and continuity. The geoglyphs depict living creatures, stylized plants and imaginary beings, as well as geometric figures several kilometers long. The Nazca lines number in the thousands, and the vast majority of them date from 200 BC to 500 AD, to a time when a people referred to as the Nazca inhabited the region.

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A collection of Nazca geoglyphs including the condor (top left) and dog (bottom left)

The startling feature of the Nazca geoglyphs is that they can only really be appreciated from the air, raising questions about how and why they were created.

A 2015 study has lent support to the theory that, at least initially, the Nazca lines were created so that pilgrims could view the symbols and markings along a ceremonial route that led to the temple complex of Cahuachi, a major center of the Nazca culture, based from 1 AD to about 500 AD in the coastal area of the Central Andes.   

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Adobe pyramid at Cahauchi, Peru (public domain)

Dr. Sakai and other researchers analyzed the location, style, and method of construction of geoglyphs found at the intersection points of some of the Nazca lines. They found that four different styles of geoglyphs were grouped together along different routes leading to Cahuachi. Archaeological excavation has also revealed shards of broken ceramics at these intersection points.

The 2015 study also suggests that the Nazca lines may have been created by at least two different groups of people who lived in different parts of the desert plateau, and who both created geoglyphs along different pilgrimage routes towards Cahuachi.  

The researchers discovered that the geoglyphs were created in two different ways – one set were made by removing the reddish, iron oxide covered stones from the interior of the images to expose the white sand beneath, while the other set were made by removing stones from the borders of the images.

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One set of geoglyphs were made by remove the reddish, iron oxide covered stones (pictured)

The Nazca people flourished from about 1 to 700 AD. Scientists think it was the Nazca who made most of the lines, although it is known that the previous Paracas culture also made geoglyphs.

National Geographic says there are more than 800 straight lines, 70 animal and plant designs and 300 geometric figures. Straight lines run as long as 30 miles. The animal and plant designs, or biomorphs, are from 50 (15 meters) to 1,200 feet (356 meters) long.

The lines first came to light in modern when commercial flights were established. Pilots saw the figures for the first time from the air in the 1930s. The fact that the Nazca lines were meant to be seen fully only from the air has led some to speculate that aliens were involved in their making.

Featured image: Newly-discovered Nazca geoglyph of an imaginary creature. Credit: Andina

By Mark Miller