The well-known Nazca traces aren’t mysterious—however they’re ingenious

Should you fly over the desert on the southern coast of Peru, you’ll spot dozens of line drawings, stretching tons of of ft throughout the arid panorama. The Nazca individuals created these photos—depicting such characters as a whale, a hummingbird, and an astronaut-esque man—practically 2,000 years in the past. The etchings might have served as a large astronomical calendar or provided tribute to the gods, although their precise objective nonetheless eludes historians. Whereas some suspect alien interference, the strategies the Nazca used in all probability aren’t fairly so far-fetched.

Step 1: planning (Lucy Engleman/)

One idea holds that artists first painted these designs on canvas. They might sketch a picture, then scale it up proportionally with some sort of grid system, as at this time’s architects do with blueprints. They’d use poles and cord to map the traces throughout the desert.

Step 2: creation

Step 2: creation (Lucy Engleman/)

To create straight traces, the Nazca individuals would pull a twine taut between two stakes, then etch the paths by scraping away darkish rock to disclose a lighter layer beneath. They created spirals by tying a cable to a central publish and strolling round in circles.

Step 3: preservation

Step 3: preservation (Lucy Engleman/)

Winds and rain may simply flip the desert again right into a clean russet canvas. That’s why the Nazca piled up oxidized stones on the edges of their markings; the rocks are heavy sufficient to face up to gusts and the area’s scant rain, defending the traces inside.

Step 4: viewing

Step 4: viewing (Lucy Engleman/)

These sketches caught public consideration within the early 20th century, as planes gave us a fowl’s-eye view—one of the simplest ways to take them in. However the Nazca didn’t want anachronistic (or alien) flying machines to see their creations: They’re seen from close by mountain peaks.

This story seems within the Fall 2020, Mysteries difficulty of Widespread Science.

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