A Drawn Scale Burns

I.  Eternal Parchment

On a desolate plateau in the land of Peru an ancient enigma abides in time. The locals call the place “Pampa Colorada”—Spanish for “Red Plain”—fitting for a land of deep vermillion, reminiscent of wine and iron rust. The arid earth of the plateau seems parched crimson by countless years beneath the burning sun.  

Carved into the surface of this arid and barren terrain are graphical figures of enormous size known as geoglyphs; depicting animals and other cryptic shapes and symbols. These geoglyphs are set amidst myriad straight line furrows of immense length that course in all directions, crisscrossing over the tableland to form a web so vast it binds fast the mind.

This red plateau is more famously known as “ Nazca ” and its ancient markings  as “The Nazca Lines”. The lines and geoglyphs inscribed into the Nazca Plateau comprise the Earth’s largest graphical construct. The deep red color of the plateau is the result of iron oxidation by the rays of the sun. The deepness of the red hue is a variable of time. The longer the surface is exposed to the sun, the more iron oxidized and the deeper its red tone becomes. The geoglyphic lines, figures and polygons drawn at Nazca are created by the simple removal of a few inches from the top surface of the terrain, exposing the lighter golden tones of unoxidized earth beneath.  

The age of the Nazca geoglyphic design remains a matter in question. The Nazca Plateau is part of a narrow band of land between the Andes Mountains and the Pacific Ocean known as the Atacama Desert. The Atacama desert is estimated to be the driest, as well as the oldest desert on Earth, a double anomaly, with conservative dates of established hyperaridity as old as 3 million years ago. Of course this does not imply that the Nazca geoglyphic anomaly is millions of years old. One can only say that as a template for the geoglyphic design the Nazca Plateau existed relatively unchanged at the dawn of mankind. 

The minimum possible age of the design is more easily determined than its maximum, as pottery and other artifacts depicting the iconography of the geoglyphs inscribed in the plateau have yielded carbon dates as early as 750 a.d., suggesting a minimum antiquity of at least 1200 years. A remarkable “minimum” age for shallow lines carved into the earth. This minimum age is not necessarily indicative of their its actual age, however, as the pottery may have been made long after the geoglyphic design was inscribed on the plateau. That the Nazca geoglyphic record has endured even 1200 years on the barren and exposed plateau, presents an anomaly. Across the sands of time Nazca still tells a silent story.

 II.  Hermetically Sealed

Many parts of the Atacama are devoid of any substantial precipitation, the Nazca Plateau itself traditionally receiving an average of less than one centimeter (0.4 inches) of precipitation per decade. This hyperaridity results from a combination of factors:

I. The extreme altitude of the Andes Mountains presents a physical barrier that prevents the passage of rain clouds from the East driven westward by the trade winds. This cloud shield effect created by tall mountains is known as a Rainshadow. As clouds are blown up the steep eastern slopes of the Andes—their temperature decreasing with the increasing elevation—the clouds reach their condensation point and precipitate on the eastern slope of the Andes flowing into the immense alluvial basin of the Amazon River. The rainshadow cast by the Andes Mountains is the largest on Earth. The Rainshadow Effect of the Andes Mountains is graphically depicted in Image-1.

Image 1:  The Rainshadow Effect of the Andes Mountains

II. Rain clouds heading eastward from the Pacific Ocean toward the Atacama Desert are quickened to condensation by the cold Humboldt Current from the Southern Ocean, which induces precipitation at sea before the rain can reach the western coast of South America. The only moisture reaching the Atacama are the morning mists that typically enshroud its arid coastline.


Image-2:  Satellite Image of Atacama Region showing the maritime coastal mists that blanket the morning coastline (far left).

The hyperaridity at Nazca results not only in the absence of water erosion but also the absence of physical and chemical weathering associated with the activity of plants, animals and microorganisms. Life’s dependency on water is gravely evident at Nazca. The extreme dry environment is so hermetic, that even those buried there are preserved in a state natural mummification that resists decomposition.

In addition to the hyperarid condition, the Nazca Plateau has chemical properties that further increase its biological inhospitality. Compounds of Mercury and Lead, generally toxic, can be found in the mineral amalgam that makes the Nazca terrain. The magnified biological deterrence resulting from this rare combination of hyperaridity and toxicity is evident in the lack of earth bound creatures seen crossing the open plain—an owl, beetle or one’s own shadow are at times the only reminders of life’s fluid existence. The lifeless stillness of the Nazca Plateau preserves the geoglyphic design engraved on it—otherwise even something as small as ants would disturb the earth and the graven record it bears.

Nazca’s biological inhospitality might seem to have an erosive drawback, as it results in an absence of trees or other vegetation to shield its surface from the wind.  Yet the lifeless treeless plain raises a different type of shield against the wind’s marring power. The Nazca Plateau falls under the geologic category of a marl: a loose conglomerate of calcium or magnesium carbonate and clays. Marls are generally grey, yet their color may be influenced by other minerals such as iron oxides, as is the case with Nazca. The iron rich earth at Nazca has the particular property absorbing solar energy and steadily radiate it back upwards into the air above it. Even in hours of darkness the heated iron generates a boundary layer of warm air that rises several inches above the surface. This blanket of rising air functions as a thermal shield that prevents the wind from contacting the surface and the ancient record.    

In the event that wind breaches the thermal shield, Nazca presents yet another hermetic coat of armor. The marl includes Gypsum in its mineral mixture. Gypsum (a.k.a. hydrated calcium sulfate: CaSO4 x 2H2O) is a soft mineral salt used to make chalk, fertilizers, cements and plaster of Paris. The concentration of Gypsum in the Nazca marl is sufficient for the ground to self-adhere—a quality that makes it more akin to asphalt than to loose earth. The increase in surface friction is readily notable, resulting in a “grip” between mutually contacting pebbles that is far greater than expected from weight and surface roughness alone. Gypsum has an “embalming” effect that is periodically renewed—the morning mists produced by the cold Humboldt current soften the adhesive which then re-hardens in the day’s heat, regenerating the seal. 

The overview of the Nazca’s natural hermetic factors concludes with one that is both natural and artificial, as it involves the natural human inhabitants of the Nazca region. Local folklore recounts that long before the Spanish or the even the Incas arrived to conquer, there was a time of terrible geologic and atmospheric upheaval.  When the turmoil passed, as goes the story, a group of foreigners made their way through the Andean region. Among the things accredited to these foreigners is the authorship of the geoglyphic lines and figures on the Nazca Plateau. According to the lore, upon request by these foreigners the people of Nazca swore an oath to “walk” the lines on their behalf. An oath which they apparently honored for millennia, for this story is reported by the Spanish conquistadors who witnessed and recorded the act of line walking. This “line walking’’ would hypothetically reprove the lines and prevent the accumulation of iron oxides on the disturbed areas, thus preventing loss of the visual contrast that creates the lines. We hope this work helps illuminate the great debt owed to such wise and gentle keepers of the past.

III.    Her Measured Scale

If one begins with the basic premise that the physical characteristics and form of the Nazca design are a direct manifestation of its intended purpose—its form defining its function—we can infer the functional purpose of the Nazca Geoglyphic Anomaly construct from its form.

The form of the location is such that the natural geographic attributes of the Nazca Plateau result in a unique convergence of anomalous extremes. The extreme “hyperaridity” of the Atacama Desert resulting from the extreme Rain Shadow that is in turn caused by the extreme altitude of the Andes Mountains. A pattern develops:  The Nazca plateau is a rare accretion of anomalous extremes that result in a rare quality of hermetic stability. 

On the ever changing surface of a dynamic Earth, Nazca seems a unique static and highly specific location. Of all places on earth, Nazca specifically offers the geoglyphic record inscribed upon its best chance at perseverance.  

Considering now the form of the geoglyphic anomaly itself. Each geoglyphic figure consists of a single continuous line—the furrowing instrument remained in contact with the ground throughout the entire outline of each figure and length of each straight line. This simple unilinear outline method of drawing seems associated with the quality of permanence of the entire plateau; a unilinear form is easier to walk upon without disturbing its form and thus easier to re-inscribe.  

(Omar Navarro)

Image-3:  The unilinear graphical outline of a hummingbird.

The scale of the geoglyphic anomaly also seems to have its longevity in mind. Any local disturbance to the graphic design is less significant in relation to its overwhelming size. If a line that is miles long loses a segment, wether directionally marred by seismic activity or to loss of visual contrast from years in the burning sun, the longer the line is, the more likely it is to retain its overall straightness and visibility.

The enormous scale of the graphical construct gives it one more unique magnified attribute, that of angular resolution. For a line of any given thickness, the longer it becomes, the more certain one becomes of its directional heading.

The Nazca Geoglyphic anomaly may initially appear a mangle of randomly oriented lines and figures, but careful observation unveils its subtle order. The majority of the straight lines converge upon specific locations on the plateau. These radial centers are associated with what appear to be artificial mounds or elevations. The great majority of the lines have at least one end terminating at or near one of these artificial mounds.

(Nazca Group)

Image-4: Radial center and mound.

Angles are a mathematical and technical concept. The concept that a scientific and technical purpose underlies the Nazca Geoglyphic animaly was proposed by the mathematician Dr. Maria Reiche. Maria Reiche arrived at Nazca shortly after the “rediscovery” of the markings by the modern world, and remained there for the rest of her life. She drew the world’s attention towards the monument’s mysterious magnificence and the need for its physical protection. The “Lady of the Lines”, as the locals respectfully called her, spent over five decades living on the Nazca Plateau, patiently measuring, recording and diagraming the geoglyphic enigma. Her analysis had lead her to the conviction that the pattern had scientific significance and hypothesized that it involved directional alignments with celestial phenomena. Her hypothesis resulted in a computer and satellite assisted analysis of the lines and polygons of the Nazca Plateau.  The testing included the celestial sphere as it is in the current era, as well as its orientation in ages past—taking into account the slow but steady rotation of the celestial sphere due to Equinoctial Precession of Earth’s rotational axis.  Although the celestial alignment hypothesis did not yield significant statistical results, Dr. Rieiche remained convinced of the scientific import of the inscription. She never abandoned the endeavor to find the geoglyphic anomaly’s significance and to ensure its respectful protection and preservation. Her mathematical and scientific approach to the analysis of the pattern brought legitimacy and respectability to the study of the Nazca anomaly and to the field of archeology in general. This present work owes much to the Lady of the Lines.

Yet her concept of lines and angles and alignments…Nazca has many lines that radiate from relatively few radial centers at various headings…Radial Centers…angles…headings. These terms may invoke thoughts regarding maps and navigation. Particularly the enigmatic “Portolan Charts” of mysterious authorship (These portolan  maps have been investigated and addressed in the past by  A.E. Nordenskiold, and Charles H. Hapgood and his students*. Their published analysis are strongly recommended as introductions to portolan charts, ancient cartography and cartography in general). 

Portolan Charts are navigation maps that make their historical appearance during the Renaissance.  Among many of these maps’ mysterious anomalies is the following difference extant between them maps used in the present era. Modern maps are generally Mercator Cylindrical Projections. Mercator maps have a Cartographic Grid based on lines of latitude and longitude, creating the familiar rectangular grids seen on modern wall maps. 

Portolan maps have cartographic grids determined by vector lines emerging at regular angular intervals from radial centers traditionally called “Wind Roses”. 

(University of Pennsylvania/Kislak Center)

Image-5: Portolan Map

The grid of portolan charts is dominated by the radial vector lines patterns that emanate from their wind roses…much like the radial centers of the Nazca geoglyphic anomaly.

Thus we have a nascent hypothesis: The Nazca Lines are a Map that was intended to last a very long time. 

Thus begins what here is humbly presented: The Nazca Great Circle Map Hypothesis and its scientific proof.