The Mystery of the Nasca Lines

© Tony Morrison 1987

Publisher’s Introduction

The Nasca Lines

It is true to say that the Nasca lines are perhaps the greatest archaeological conundrum of the Americas. At some time in antiquity and without any apparent reason a desert was embellished with lines. Many of the markings run unerringly straight for mile after mile while others form zigzags or spirals. Sometimes a network of lines spreads out from a hill like the spokes of a giant wheel, but just as often others take the intricate shape of animals, plants and curious beings. Frequently the work is tiny and simply a few steps across. Conversely, some of the features are immense, taunting belief when seen from space with the naked eye.

These curious markings were found by archaeologists more than fifty years ago; yet, apart from the opinions of one of the discoverers who said they were sacred paths, the professionals have tended to shun the subject. Instead the puzzle has been left in the hands of dedicated amateurs and a handful of academics with expertise ranging from astronomy to anthropology. Maria Reiche who left her native Germany in 1932 and who first visited the site in 1941, has watched many attempts to solve the mystery. All without success. In her opinion the answer will be found and it is simply a matter of drawing the clues together.

Maria Reiche, though outspoken about the often thoughtless destruction of the lines, is particularly modest about her own achievements. Her personal accounts of her tireless work on the desert are hard to find many are written in letters she sent home to Germany or correspondents around the world. Thus few of Maria’s memories and successes have ever been presented to a wide audience. A special acknowledgement is therefore given here by the author and publisher for the contributions in this book from Maria Reiche and her sister Renate. Photographs, diagrams and biographical details have been drawn from the archive kept in Germany by Renate who maintained an invaluable flow of correspondence with the author.

Immediately obvious from Maria Reiche’s earliest reports are the clues she discovered soon after the Second World War, and which are very much in vogue today. It could be argued that once found Maria tended to overlook certain pointers. But not so; different detectives can use different methods to achieve the same result. Maria Reiche has always been convinced that in some way the lines hold information which was of supreme importance to their builders. If the idea that the lines are sacred paths is correct, then they could be likened to an ancient Inca record-keeping device which relied on knots on strings rather in the fashion of knotting a tie to jog one’s memory. Locating the key to the information stored in the markings and then deciphering it has been her lifework. Although her study remains unfinished, Maria Reiche is not despondent and remains open minded about fresh ideas.

Significantly, the pace of investigation has increased in recent years but with relatively small strides ahead. One major problem is that the trail has grown cold during the many hundreds of years since the markings were made. To make matters worse the desert has suffered the onslaught of uncontrolled tourism and inevitably clues have been spoiled. As one ardent linesman admitted: ‘A needle in a haystack would be easier to find at least you know what a needle looks like’.

April 1987


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