In the Nazca desert, Peru, sits a collection of huge drawings etched into the soil by the Nazca culture between 500 BCE and 500 CE. Known as the Nazca lines, they were made by carving depressions into the desert floor by removing pebbles and dirt, revealing a lighter color soil beneath the reddish-brown surface. Also known as geoglyphs, the etchings are mostly lines that run straight across the landscape, but some depict plants, animals, and human-like subjects. Despite being committed to the ground thousands of years ago, they are largely preserved with remarkable clarity thanks to a sub-layer in the soil that contains large amounts of lime. This layer hardens with exposure to moistness from rain or morning mist, protecting the etchings from erosion (though it couldn't save them from a lost truck driver or Greenpeace).
Now, a new Nazca line etching has been discovered just as it was on the brink of disappearing due to its location on a particularly steep slope, which made it more vulnerable to erosion than most of the geoglyphs. The enormous feline-inspired etching had lain in secret until a recent project to erect a new path leading to an observation platform was launched. Peru's Ministry of Culture announced it has been cleaned and preserved, revealing a rather stripped-back depiction of a cat.
Now before you go passing judgment, may I ask: when was the last time you etched a 37-meter (121-foot) animal into the ground, huh? Yeah, didn’t think so. According to a report from EFE news agency, Johny Isla, Peru's chief archaeologist for the Nazca lines, said that the geoglyph cat actually predates the Nazca culture, instead placing it within the late Paracas era around 500 BCE to 200 CE, making the cat the oldest of the geoglyphs in the area. Suddenly the three-holes-for-a-face feline doesn’t seem like such a paltry achievement.
"The figure was scarcely visible and was about to disappear because it's situated on quite a steep slope that's prone to the effects of natural erosion,” said Peru's Culture Ministry in a statement. "The discovery shows, once again, the rich and varied cultural legacy of this site."
Exactly why these ancient civilizations went to such trouble to etch enormous symbols on the floor isn’t known for certain, but researchers have theorized that they may have served as travel markers or been intended for the viewing pleasure of deities in the sky. After all, who among us, divine or mortal, doesn't love cats.