Home Page Science Frontiers

No. 47: Sep-Oct 1986

Issue Contents

Other pages

Other Interesting Sites











Explaining The Nazca Lines

The Nazca lines of Peru have been one of archeology's more enduring anomalies. Books have been written about them; theories abound; what more can be said? Evidently there is more.

A.F. Aveni's recent article in Archaeology sets the Nazca lines in perspective and adds some new observations. First, Aveni deflates their mystery a bit. You do not have to be in an airplane to appreciate the lines; most can be viewed from ground level, even better from nearby foothills. Although there are some 1,300 kilometers of lines and about 300 geometric figures, their construction did not really involve much labor or special engineering skills. Even so, the Nazca lines are remarkable, and we really do not know for certain why they were etched on the Peruvian pampa.

In his early research on the Nazca lines, Aveni noted their strong similarity to the ceque system of 41 imaginary lines radiating outwards from the Inca's Temple of the Sun, at Cuzco -- the "navel" of the Inca universe.

"...the ceque system was a highly ordered hierarchical cosmographical map, a mnemonic scheme that incorporated virtually all important matters connected with the Inca world view."

Could the Nazca lines have been a forerunner of the ceque system? Aveni also noticed that the Nazca lines and geometrical figures were closely related to watercourses. Also, many of the lines definitely functioned as footpaths. It was also apparent that the animal figures, which were laid down much earlier than the line systems, were not related conceptually to the line scheme.

Aveni concluded:

"...whatever the final answer may be to the mystery of the Nazca lines, this much is certain: the pampa is not a confused and meaningless maze of lines, and it was no more intended to be viewed from the air than an Iowa wheat field. The lines and line centers give evidence of a great deal of order, and the well-entrenched concept of radiality offers affinities between the ceque system of Cuzco and the lines on the pampa. All the clues point to a ritual scheme involving water, irrigation and planting; but as we might expect of these ancient cultures, elements of astronomy and calendar were also evident."

(Aveni, Anthony F.; "The Nazca Lines: Patterns in the Desert," Archaeology, 39:33, August 1986.)

Reference. For more on the Nazca lines and other "geoglyphs," see our handbook Ancient Man, which is described here.

Monkey effigy and geometric patterns in the Nazca line complex, Peru. Monkey effigy and geometric patterns in the Nazca line complex, Peru.

From Science Frontiers #47, SEP-OCT 1986. 1986-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987