Deciphering Peru’s Nasca Lines


The mysterious lines stretch for miles across southern Peru, spanning the plains adjacent to the bone-dry Atacama Desert, Earth’s driest. Seen from above, they depict animals and people, spirals, trapezoids, and other geometric forms—or simply run straight, paths to nowhere.

Since they were first described by archaeologists in the 1930s and ’40s, people have speculated that these enigmatic “geoglyphs”—some more than 2,000 years old—were ancient highways, astronomical calendars, or perhaps runways for alien spacecraft.


Who built the Nasca Lines and why?


A new special premiering tonight at 10 p.m. ET/PT on the National Geographic Channel and an article in the March 2010 issue of National Geographic magazine shed light on these long-standing questions.

Both the special and the article highlight recent finds by Christina Conlee, a Texas State University-San Marcos archaeologists who has described evidence of human sacrifice at Nasca. Clues associated with a decapitated body at Nasca, and much of the artwork associated with other Nasca artifacts, suggest that water was central to the culture’s ritual and worship.

By extension, the Nasca Lines—produced over centuries by moving darkened stones aside to reveal the lighter desert pavement beneath—may have served as a vast stage for rituals intended to ward off deadly drought. The conclusion supports the theory outlined by National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Johan Reinhard in 1986 that, given the arid environment and the Nasca people’s critical dependence on rainfall to survive, the Nasca Lines may have been part of a larger system of beliefs designed to bring water to the desert.

To learn more about the mysteries of the Nasca Lines, read Stephen Hall’s article in National Geographic, make your own giant Nasca Lines with kids, explore the Nat Geo Channel’s Nasca Lines website, and watch the special!

Photographs by Robert Clark

  • Ramkumar Yaragarla

    Interesting read. It appears that there is some reason and answer to who made those lines. But, feel they are not made by man. The geoglyphs are so precise. The shapes of animals and other objects are visible only from far above the ground. Even if it is to get water into the desert but then “why they have to do it in the shapes of animals and other objects. Intriguing.

About the Blog

Researchers, conservationists, and others share stories, insights and ideas about Our Changing Planet, Wildlife & Wild Spaces, and The Human Journey. More than 50,000 comments have been added to 10,000 posts. Explore the list alongside to dive deeper into some of the most popular categories of the National Geographic Society’s conversation platform Voices.

Opinions are those of the blogger and/or the blogger’s organization, and not necessarily those of the National Geographic Society. Posters of blogs and comments are required to observe National Geographic’s community rules and other terms of service.

Voices director: David Braun (dbraun@ngs.org)

Social Media