Mysterious lines in the Plains of Nazca

Marilyn Bridges photo of the long-billed hummingbird on the plains of Nazca.
Marilyn Bridges photo of the long-billed hummingbird on the plains of Nazca.

DR. DENBY LOOKED ACROSS at his young daughter sitting in the passenger seat of his 1955 green Chevy as they rolled along on a country highway. To him she was a cute little tyke in her pigtails and jeans with the matching jean jacket. He often took her along on country calls when he was tending to his rural patients so that he would get to spend a little time with her, anyway. She was well-behaved and fairly quiet but sometimes she did ask a lot of questions. The good thing about that was that she waited until they were alone again and riding in the car. She did not ask questions in front of other people, usually. This was a benefit, when Josie was curious about old ladies’ hair color, or old men’s lack of teeth or something just as bad.

“Look on the left, Josie. There is the fire tower.” Doc gestured. They still had plenty of time to get home to supper before dark, even if they did stop for awhile. Josie perked up in the seat. “Let’s go see our friend, Rusty, what do you say?” Dr. Denby asked as he wheeled his Chevy into the drive by the tiny Conservation office. Rusty saw them through the window as they walked up. He came to the door and waved.

“Hey, Doc. How you doing? You have a companion, I see.” Rusty smiled down at Josie and she instantly fell in love with him. “You feel like walking up all of those steps? I will give you another tour if you are up to it. There is something I think you would get a kick out of, anyway.”

Dr. Denby eyed the rows of steps that went up to the top of fire tower. They wrapped around the supports for the little building at the very top. The watchtower was as tall as a five or six story building or more. “Okay. Let’s go! “Josie, I want you to hang on to Daddy’s hand real tight, now.” They all made their way to the top of Big Buck Fire Tower.

“We had a small forest fire about a week ago. We were able to put it out with a special airplane that dumps water. The thick foliage of the trees had been covering up something interesting. Take a look at this mystery. What do you think it is?” Rusty pointed to a scorched spot in the green blanket below them. In the middle of the charred trees was a clearing. The soil there looked odd. Rusty handed Doc Denby the binoculars.”

“The earth is molded up in the shape of a fish with scales and fins, it looks like. Is that what it looks like to you? Is it some type of Indian mound structure?” Doc Denby was starting to think that going up all of those steps had a pretty good pay-off.

“I wanna see, Daddy!” Dr. Denby lifted his wee daughter up and helped hold the binoculars for her.

“That is what we think it is, Doc. Some scientists and archaeologists from the university are coming to check it out this week.”

“It doesn’t look tall enough to be a burial mound. I think it must just be an earth design. But why did they put it here? What did it mean to them? When did they do it?” Doc Denby asked all of these unanswerable questions.

“I am wondering the same thing, and if I find out I will call you and let you know. If it proves to be something good, they will clean it up and put a barricade around it. Maybe National Geographic will come photograph it. That is what I am excited about. It would really be a jolt to see them send a team out here to investigate it.”

Photo of the mysterious Nazca Lines that resemble a spider.
Photo of the mysterious Nazca Lines that resemble a spider.

As the years went by and Josie grew into a young woman, she studied art history courses at a college and some of them included sections on Native American burial mounds, earthworks and pottery. Her favorite giant drawings were the Nazca Lines of Peru. These geoglyphics resemble spiders, monkeys, hummingbirds, horses, and there is a 540 foot long cactus also known as the Candelabra. Some of the geoglyphics were just geometrical designs. What were they for? How could they make them? The only way one could see them was from the sky. How did they know how to draw them? It seemed that a giant would have to make them, for them to be as accurate as they were.

Josie also learned that these huge earth drawings could be found elsewhere, including England. There was the streamlined Uffington Horse

Near Swindon, and the somewhat risqué Cerne Giant. They were not as old as the Inca creations, but they were just as interesting.

In the early 1970s, she got a 1968 copy of Erich von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods on a whim. She did not really believe these and other artworks were made by extraterrestrials as von Daniken proposed. She got the book at a library sale solely for the interior photographs of the many things that held her interest.

When she was getting along further in years, she learned that two women were prominent in the study of these huge earthworks. One could be credited with the first in-depth study of the Nazca Lines and another could be credited for risking her life to get the excellent aerial photographs of them.

Paul Kosok and his wife went to Peru in 1941 to study irrigation systems. They chanced upon some of the Nazca lines and were convinced they were part of a celestial guide made by the Nazca culture. He was a historian and had to return to his teaching post at Long Island University. He handed further detective work on the Nazca lines to acquaintance named Maria Reiche. She had left Germany because of the rise of the Nazi party. She found a governess job offered by a wealthy German family living in Peru and latched onto it. While near Lima, she also became a translator. She met the Kosoks and they encouraged her to investigate the Nazca lines. She found the earthworks irresistible.

She gave up her jobs in 1945 to live a Spartan life in the desert and study the lines. She used up many brooms sweeping debris off of the drawings. The Nazca Indians were coastal Peruvians and they had a complex society before the Inca Empire. They farmed, using irrigation techniques, they built pyramids and they made pottery and textiles. They lived there between 300 B.C. and 540 A.D. No one knows exactly what became of them.

Maria Reiche spent years trying to figure out how they were able to do the line drawings and she also found some areas where she believes they made smaller studies for the larger works. The drawings are made from one continuous line. She worked well into her eighties on the lines. She figured out their measuring system and documented her discoveries but did not get much recognition for all of her hard work.

Another woman, an American photographer, Marilyn Bridges, decided to try to make photographs of the Nazca lines and other giant earthworks. She did this in the 1970s in a plane sometimes barely two hundred feet up off the ground. The aircraft wings had to be at a steep angle to get the shots, and the plane had to go at what could be considered stalling speed. She used black and white film to get the best contrast and the results are both eerie and beautiful.

The purpose of the Nazca lines and other giant earthwork drawings remain a mystery. How were they able to make such accurate drawings without being giants? Some have suggested they were able to built hot-air balloons to aid them. Airline executive, Jim Woodman set out to see if it would even be possible for them to do this. In 1975, Woodman and his crew proved that they would be able to do this with the maiden flight of Condor I, made of cotton fabric and reed weavings. It would have been possible for the Nazcas to do but not at all probable. The mysteries still remain.

Josie still reads what new information she can find about the Nazca lines. Her father, who teemed with wonderful life-lessons is long gone, but she thinks about him every day and the mystery they witnessed from the top of the fire tower so long ago. The fire tower was torn down in the 1990s. Barely a day goes by that she does not also wonder what became of the affable and handsome Rusty.

Sara Marie Hogg is the author of The Scavenger’s Song. 



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