Mapping the famous Nasca lines for the first time, Peruvian archaeologists accidentally discovered more than 50 previously unknown ancient geoglyphs.
Often measuring only a few inches across, the thinly-traced lines are too difficult to discern with the naked eye. Carved into the earth more than a millennium ago, over time many of the lines had been reduced to faint depressions in the soil. High-resolution 3D scans of the terrain captured with low-flying drones show in stunning detail the massive lines, reports National Geographic.
Archaeologists believe some of the new lines date back even further than the Nasca culture (200 to 700 CE), having been carved by the Paracas and Topara cultures between 500 BCE and 200 CE. The Nasca lines are only visible form overhead and usually consisted of polygons. On the other hand, the Paracas depicted humans and laid their etchings down hillsides visible to villages below.
Most of these figures are warriors,” Peruvian archaeologist Luis Jaime Castillo Butters, who helped discover the glyphs, told the publication. “These ones could be spotted from a certain distance, so people had seen them, but over time, they were completely erased.”
The Nasca lines are located about 400 kilometers (250 miles) south of Lima and are made up of an arrangement of geometric lines – most famously a hummingbird, monkey, and a spider – that cover 750 square kilometers (280 square miles).
Now estimated at more than one thousand, the images mean cultures were experimenting with massive human-made ditches centuries before the Nasca appeared. Ancient Peruvians moved stones to define the edges of the lines. They then would scrape away the top layer of earth to expose the lighter underlying soil. To this day, scientists still aren’t sure why, but suggest they probably served ritualistic purposes.
Deemed a World Heritage site in 1994, UNESCO has said the lines are “among archaeology's greatest enigmas". The new geoglyphs fall within UNESCO protections and scientists say they aren’t under immediate threat, but previous threats to the lines are exactly what made this find possibly. However, international recognition doesn't guarantee protection. Home nations are responsible for implementing protections and penalties when someone damages the sites, as was the case when a truck driver drove through the lines earlier this year.
In December 2014, Greenpeace staged a protest near the hummingbird, ironically decrying the destruction of the environment but irreparably damaging the heritage site. Afterward, a US grant paid for further research to be conducted in the area. Castillo said there is still much work to be done: only about 5 percent of the 100,000 archaeological sites in Peru have been properly documented, even fewer have been mapped.
The archaeologists say they are working to register the new lines with the Peruvian Ministry of Culture.
[H/T National Geographic]