In Images: The Mysterious Nazca Lines

The Nazca Lines, a group of hundreds of mysterious geoglyphs etched into the desert in Peru, have mystified archaeologists and scientists for nearly a century. Ancient civilizations made the drawings over a period of hundreds of years, starting in about 200 B.C. Scientists studying the lines have come up with many explanations for their existence. By analyzing the style, subject matter and construction methods for the drawings, the researchers at Yamagata University in Japan have proposed that the lines were made by two different groups and were intended to be seen on their respective pilgrimage routes to an ancient temple. [Read the Full Story on the Nazca Lines Here] (Photo credit: adwo/

Mysterious Lines

The Nazca Lines were first brought to the world's attention in the 1920s, when commercial airlines brought their passengers over the Nazca Pampa, an arid region of Peru locked between the Andes and the coast. Ancient people made the mysterious lines, shapes, otherworldly beings and animals between about 200 B.C. and A.D. 600 by removing the white rocks on the surface of the desert, revealing the reddish hued Earth underneath. Here, one of the iconic etchings, of "The Spider."

The Condor

Researchers at Yamagata University have analyzed hundreds of the geoglyph. Based on their analysis, they have found multiple types of etchings. Many of those images are Some, such as "The Condor," shown here, tend to use subject matter such as animals.

The Monkey

The researchers have also noticed differences in how certain etchings were constructed. For some, people removed rocks from the interior of the shape, while in others people removed rocks from the exterior to form the outline. Here, an image called "The Monkey," which is grouped with many biomorphic images in a certain region of the Nazca Plain.

The Astronaut

This image, called "The Astronaut," is considered a kind of supernatural being, and is one of the most well-known of the geolgyphs. It was rediscovered in the 1960s. The Astronaut is found along with several other geoglyphs of other supernatural beings, trophy heads and camelids animals, the researchers said.

The Dog

Here, another one of the iconic images in the Nazca Plain, called "The Dog." Certain types of animal images tended to clump in one region, along a path leading to an ancient temple complex of Cahuachi. Researchers now hypothesize that two separate groups of people, one living in the INgeio Valley, and another living in the Nazca River Valley, both took pilgrimage routes along the geoglyphs.


Not all the lines show images of people or animals. Some of the geoglyphs are wavy lines, spirals intersecting lines and trapezoids. Researchers believe that at least some of the lines were meant to be walked as a labyrinth. Still others see it as a guide to the constellations, with one 1940s American scientist calling them the "largest astronomy book in the world." Still others have argued that the images were meant to reveal the paths of subterranean water sources in the incredibly parched region, which gets an average of just 0.16 inches (4 mm) of rainfall a year. (Photo credit: Jess Kraft/

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Tia Ghose
Managing Editor

Tia is the managing editor and was previously a senior writer for Live Science. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, and other outlets. She holds a master's degree in bioengineering from the University of Washington, a graduate certificate in science writing from UC Santa Cruz and a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. Tia was part of a team at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that published the Empty Cradles series on preterm births, which won multiple awards, including the 2012 Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism.