A mysterious area of desert markings on the plains of Nazca, Peru, about 250 miles southeast of Lima between the towns of Nazca and Palpa.
This barren plateau covering 200 square miles has over 13,000 lines, 100 spirals, trapezoids, and triangles, and about 800 large animal drawings, etched in the desert through removal of surface stones with lighter colored soil underneath. Many of the lines extend for miles, radiating from centers like star shapes. It is estimated that the markings were made between 400 B.C.E. and 900 C.E. and their construction may have occupied several centuries.
During the 1970s, as part of a larger theory of ancient astronauts having visited Earth, Erich von Däniken suggested that these markings were the work of ancient spacemen who landed on the plain and marked out an airfield for their spacecraft. Actually, as early as 1955 James W. Moseley had proposed such a hypotheses in an article in Fate magazine. In one of his later books, Gods From Outer Space (1973), von Däniken states:
"At some time in the past, unknown intelligences landed on the uninhabited plain near the present-day town of Nazca and built an improvized airfield for their spacecraft which were to operate in the vicinity of the earth."
The hypothesis has little to commend it. For example, Ronald D. Story pointed out a number of weaknesses in von Däniken's reasoning in an article in the The Zetetic in 1977. First of all, there should be no need for a runway several miles long for a space vehicle capable of vertical landing (only modern air liners need a long runway). Secondly, many of the lines run right into hills, ridges, and the sides of mountains. Thirdly, the markings are on soft, sandy soil, unsuitable for any heavy vehicle to land on. Maria Reiche, an expert on Nazca, has commented: "I'm afraid the spacemen would have gotten stuck."
Story cited Professor Kosok of Long Island University, who first mapped and photographed the mysterious markings from the air in June 1941 and discovered apparent alignment with solstices and equinoxes. Perhaps the markings were "the largest astronomy book in the world." Similar astronomical ground markings have been discovered in what is termed the Glastonbury Zodiac in England.
While the ideal viewing position for such markings as Nazca is from a point about 600 feet above the plain, it does not necessarily follow that they were actually designed for viewing from the air. They could be interpreted as a giant image of astronomical mysteries, in which the construction and traversal of competed markings might be in the nature of a religious ritual. Many magical ceremonies involve physical traversing of geometrical forms inscribed on the ground.
An ingenious theory cited by Story is that of the International Explorers Society (IES) of Florida, who suggested that the "chariots of the gods" sailing over Nazca might have been ancient smoke balloons piloted by early Peruvians. This theory was presented in some detail by IES member Jim Woodman in his book NAZCA: Journey to the Sun (1977). Woodman has discovered that the thousands of ancient gravesites around Nazca contain finely woven textiles (suitable for balloon fabric), braided rope, and ceramic pottery. One clay pot has a picture suggesting a hot-air balloon with tie ropes.
It is not generally known that manned balloon flights were recorded in Brazil as early as 1709, when Bartolomeu de Gusmao made his first flight on August 8.
Jim Woodman has actually tested his theory in collaboration with balloonist Julian Nott. They constructed a balloon using the same materials as those available to the ancient Nazcans. The envelope used cotton fabric similar to that in the gravesites; the basket for pilot and co-pilot was woven from native fibers. On November 28, 1975, Woodman and Nott actually flew their balloon (named Condor I ) over the Nazca plains.
However, this impressive demonstration hardly settles the mystery of Nazca, since it is not plausible that the Nazcans would have spent centuries constructing these markings for the benefit of occasional balloonists to view from the air. Validation of the theory would require evidence of a religious and cultural milieu in which such balloonists had maintained an elite status for hundreds of years, and it is hardly likely that such balloons would have vanished without a trace.
Charroux, Robert. The Mysteries of the Andes. New York: Avon, 1977.
Clark, Jerome. Encyclopedia of Strange and Unexplained Phenomena. Detroit: Gale Research, 1993.
Morrison, Tony. Pathways to the Gods: The Mystery of the Andes Lines. London: Granada Publishing, 1980.
Moseley, James W. "Peruvian Desert Map for Saucers?" Fate 8, no. 10 (October 1055): 28-33.
Story, Ronald D. "Von Däniken's Golden Gods." The Zetetic 2, no. 1 (1977).
Von Däniken, Erich. Chariots of the Gods?: Unsolved Mysteries of the Past. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1970.