May 15, 2012 - Happy Birthday, Maria Rieche

Did you know that there are gigantic pictures of animals and plants etched into the ground in southern Peru?

Some people have speculated that ancient humans could not have created such huge drawings and would have had no reason to do so—because who would ever get to see them? There were, after all, no airplanes in ancient Peru!

Those people often go on to suggest that aliens arrived in Peru via spacecraft, and then built airfields. I suppose this suggestion is supposed to explain the many straight lines and geometric figures that accompany the creature pictures—after all, why would the aliens' runways would look like Earthly monkeys and hummingbirds?—but there isn't a shred of evidence that aliens were involved.

In actual fact, the Nazca lines and figures can be seen from atop the surrounding foothills. Indeed, they were first discovered by a Peruvian archeologist named Toribio Mejia Xesspe when he was hiking in those foothills. Also, there seems a pretty good chance that the Nazca Indians who created the figures meant to communicate with their gods, who might be presumed to see them from on high. The “technology” used to create the pictures was super simple: reddish pebbles were removed, uncovering whitish/grayish ground beneath the pebbles.

Maria Rieche, who was born in Germany on this date in 1903, worked in Peru with American historian Paul Kosok. The two were the first scholars to study the Nazca lines, and Rieche ended up succeeding in getting the government to recognize the lines' importance. Thanks to her, the land on which the lines appear has been preserved, and Rieche even lived long enough to see (when she was 92 years old!) the Nazca Lines declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

National Geographic Kids suggests a way to create your own large-scale drawings. 

This preview of Philip Day's “Nasca Lines: The Buried Secrets” gives a pretty good view of many of the Nazca lines and hints at what archeology tells us about the people who created them. (I wonder if the entire documentary is available on Netflix? It is available on DVD from National Geographic Store.) 

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