The Nazca Lines & Symbols: Simple Engineering

The Maria Reiche1Since many of the drawings must be viewed from the air to be seen in their entirety, the task of getting such large figures so perfectly proportioned and the lines so straight was thought to have required an observer from above to guide the drawings. This led some to hypothesize that the Nazcans may have been capable of flight! (however, there is NO PROOF of this!)
But Dr. Persis B. Clarkson, an archeologist and geoglyph expert at the University of Winnipeg says the technology required was very easy and straightforward. "It was not a difficult technology... all you need is the will." As Clarkson explains, all it took was careful and diligent attention to sight lines.

For the straight lines, two wooden stakes could be used to guide the placement of a third stake along the line. One person 'sights along' the first two stakes and instructs a second person where to place the third stake. Strings could also have been used to help ensure the lines were straight. This process could be repeated for hundreds of kilometres with due diligence and time.

During the summer of 1984, ten volunteers from Earthwatch, an international nonprofit organization that supports scientific field research, helped Anthony Aveni, an astronomer and anthropologist at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York in a study of the Nazca lines. They constructed a straight line that wound up into a spiral 35 meters long and one meter wide in just an hour and a half - without a printed plan. One group squatted in the interior of the figure, uncovering the stones to let the pale yellow soil underneath to show, while another group moved these stones to the edge of the figures and arranged them into piles about a half a meter high. A third group supervised the edging process to ensure that things lined up correctly. The result, says Aveni, was a figure that was as accurate as any Nazca drawing measured with a surveyor's instrument.

By extrapolating their results, Aveni and his team concluded that the work crew could have cleared an average-sized trapezoid spanning an area of 16,000 square meters in about a week. With a work force of 10,000 people, Aveni estimates that every line and trapezoid on the entire pampa could have been made in less than a decade.

Maria Reiche sweeping1Aveni's article in Archaeology (August 1986) 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."