Postcards bus for whose eyes?
Long before Columbus, long before the Incas, Maya and Aztecs, the people of Peru’s vanished Nazca culture created enormous drawings on a desert plain high in the Andes called the Pampa Colorada, some 25o miles south of Lima. If there are miracles here, one is meteorological: the lines have been preserved like new for centuries by the arid high-desert air, the static climate stopping time. Seen from the ground, the lines are mystifying, their significance unclear. They are indented furrows, where dark stones that cover the ground have been removed to expose lighter soil beneath.Yet seen from the air, the only place from which they can be viewed in their entirety, many of them come into focus, forming a bestiary of curios: a hummingbird, a spiral-tailed monkey, a condor, an owl-headed man. Other drawings form clear geometric shapes: spirals, trapezoids and parallel lines. The animal shapes were created first; scientists date them to 200 B.C. The geometric forms were created some 500 years later. Scientists call the shapes geoglyphs, or earth writings. The mystery they pose is this: Why would people unable to fly create shapes so large they can only be appreciated from a vantage point high in the sky? Most scientists believe the images were directed not to man’s eyes but to those of the gods. Swiss author Erich von Daniken expanded on this point, famously arguing in his 1970 best seller, Chariots of the Gods, that the pictograms were messages to alien navigators, and the desert a landing strip for ancient spaceships. Readers loved the notion, but scientists were scornful. One resourceful group in the 198os sucessfully built and flew a primitive hot-air balloon on the site, hoping to prove that the Nazca people could indeed see the figures from on high. The lines were protected from harm for decades by German mathematician Maria Reiche, who argued that they served as ancient sky calendars. That theory was firmly refuted by astronomer Gerald Hawkins. Other scientists have proposed that the lines point to ancient underground aquifers, while still others suspect that they were walked by pilgrims during religious rites, visiting simple shrines that vanished long ago. The exact function of these lines remains one of the great unsolved mysteries of the past.
The shapes cover 400 sq. mi. of desert. This figure, called the Candelabra for obvious reasons, is 800 ft. long. Some think it shows a local hallucinogenic cactus