Aug 26 2013
Here’s a 2000-year-old drawing of a very cool bird. Can you tell which one it is? (For a better view, click on the image to see the larger original.)
While researching hummingbirds I learned about this geoglyph, one of the many Nazca lines found on the dry landscape of southwestern Peru near the towns of Nazca and Palpa. From the air the land looks like a giant sketchpad with hundreds of geometric figures, humans and animals. There are even erasures and newer drawings superimposed on top of old ones.
The Nazca people created these lines when their culture thrived here between 200 BC and 600 AD. The figures were community projects created by removing the top layer of dark reddish pebbles to reveal the light-colored soil beneath. This desert is one of the driest places on earth and so stable — no wind, rain or vegetation — that the lines have endured to this day. They were protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.
The geoglyphs are as large as 660 feet across, some drawn on hillsides like murals, others in the valley. The hummingbird is 310 feet long and is a single line that can be walked without crossing itself. Archaeologists believe these walks were ceremonial, possibly done as a group or community.
I’m impressed that people can create a shape on this scale. The artist has to spatially translate a small drawing into landscape size. I can do this for easy things such as “walk in a circle in the living room” but nothing like this! (In Pittsburgh we’ve done this like flash mobs that spell Google or make the shape of a Pitt Panther.)
Line-making in the Peruvian desert ended after 800 years because of local climate change. The Nazcas’ only water came from horizontal wells and intermittent rivers fed by rain on the western slopes of the Andes. When that rain ceased to fall, the wells and rivers went dry and that was that.
See more of the drawings in this six minute slideshow.
(photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)