One of the greatest mysteries of the ancient world may have just deepened, after an enormous and previously unseen geoglyph depicting a bizarre-looking animal was spotted on the famous Nazca plateau in Peru. Dotted with hundreds of other geoglyphs – many of which can only be fully seen from the air – the region was once inhabited by the Nazca culture. Yet the fact that this pre-Columbian civilization had long-since disappeared by the time Europeans arrived in the Americas means that very little is known about how they lived or why they constructed these gargantuan illustrations.
The discovery was made by researchers from Yamagata University in Japan, who were able to spot it from ground level thanks to the fact that it had been engraved into a slope. Around 30 meters long (100 feet), the weird creature appears to be sticking its tongue out, and has a large number of legs as well as spotted markings on its body.
Researcher Masato Sakai told Discovery News that the geoglyph “certainly represents an imaginary or mythical creature,” and suggests that it may have acted as a landmark for pilgrims heading to the nearby Cahuachi ceremonial center. This theory is supported by the fact that the structure lies close to another geoglyph that was first spotted on an adjacent slope in 2011, and that the ancient path leading to Cahuachi runs between the two.
A drawing of the outline of the newly discovered geoglyph. Yamagata University
The previously discovered geoglyph is said to depict “a scene of decapitation,” adding weight to the idea that these giant engravings may have played a ceremonial role, since the chopping off of human heads is thought to have been an important ritualistic activity for the Nazca.
As with many of the surrounding geoglyphs, the latest discovery appears to have been constructed by removing the darker, oxidized surface stones to reveal the lighter-colored earth beneath. The displaced rocks were then placed around the outline of the mythical creature in order to emphasize its form.
Many of the surrounding geoglyphs were also created using this same technique – particularly those dating back to the Late Paracas period, which lasted from around 200 to 400 B.C.E. Based on this knowledge, Sakai told Andina that the newly discovered feature “may date back to 2,000-2,500 years ago.”
The geoglyph is thought to depict a multi-legged creature sticking its tongue out. Yamagata University
Since archaeologists first began to take an interest in the Nazca Lines way back in the 1940s, a number of theories have been put forward as to what purpose they may have served. Some, for instance, have suggested that the impressive markings were somehow aligned with celestial bodies and therefore acted as some sort of enormous astronomical map. Others, meanwhile, have dismissed this idea, claiming instead that they were shrines.
While we may never know for certain exactly why the Nazca Lines were constructed, it’s unlikely we’ll ever tire of admiring these amazing markings and speculating over what role they played in the lives of the Nazca people.
All images via Yamagata University