Archaeologists using drones have discovered more than 25 geoglyphs etched into a swath of coastal desert in southern Peru, and they are likely much older than the famous Nasca lines.
Most of the newly found geoglyphs, which include figures of a killer whale and a woman dancing, appear to have been made by the Paracas culture more than 2,000 years ago, hundreds of years before the Nazca people created similar giant drawings nearby, said Johny Isla, an archaeologist who heads the culture ministry’s conservation efforts in the region.
An additional 25 geoglyphs that had previously been spotted by local residents have also been mapped with drones, Isla said.
Drones “have allowed us to broaden our documentation and discover new groups of figures,” Isla said on a tour of the geoglyphs in the province of Palpa.
But unlike the Nazca lines, most of which can only be seen by flying above them, many of the so-called Palpa Lines were carved into hillsides and can be seen from below, Peru’s culture ministry said in a statement.
What Are the Lines?
The lines are known as geoglyphs – drawings on the ground made by removing rocks and earth to create a “negative” image. The rocks which cover the desert have oxidized and weathered to a deep rust color, and when the top 12-15 inches of rock is removed, a light-colored, high contrasting sand is exposed. Because there’s so little rain, wind and erosion, the exposed designs have stayed largely intact for 500 to 2000 years.
Scientists believe that the majority of lines were made by the Nasca people, who flourished from around A.D. 1 to 700.
The geoglyphs created by the Nazca and Paracas cultures are striking reminders of Peru’s rich pre-Columbian history and are considered archeological enigmas, as no one knows for sure why they were drawn, or so large and for so long.
Most of these mysterious geoglyphs were created by the Nazca people, who lived in the area from 200 to 700 CE. But the researchers believe that some of the newfound ones were created even earlier – by the Paracas and Topará people, who lived there around 500 BCE to 200 CE.
“In total we’re talking about 1,200 years in which geoglyphs were produced” in the region, said Isla.
Declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1994, the Nazca Lines have faced damage by squatters looking for land to settle on and motorists veering off a nearby highway.
In 2014, environmental group Greenpeace apologized to Peru for staging a picture to protest dirty fuels at the Nazca geoglyph of a hummingbird, which government officials said was damaged as a result.
Isla said the Greenpeace incident prompted the culture ministry to ramp up efforts to protect archaeological sites in the region, helping lead to the new discoveries.
“We still haven’t walked among them, we’ve only taken pictures. This is the first stage of research,” Isla said.