Mystery and bad omens left by Peru’s Nazca civilization

The mysterious Nazca lines are a series of giant geoglyphs left in one of Peru’s southern deserts by the pre-Inca, Nazca culture (200 BC to 700 AD). Best visible by air, the enormous monkeys, condors, spiders, and other animals have puzzled scholars for decades while helping fuel bad movies about alien intervention in pre-Colombian America (my theory is Spielberg only makes good movies in odd numbered years). For more serious analysis of the purpose the geoglyphs served, check out and the work of Maria Reiche, the “Lady of the Lines.

The cheap way to see Nasca. You see fewer geoglyphs, but avoid the hassle of small aircraft . Make sure you do your research and fly with a good company if you do fly.

One thing scientists do think they finally have figured out about Nazca for sure, is how the civilization that created the geoglyphs managed to kill itself off. And the theory does not bode well for us 21st century kids.

A study by Dr David Beresford-Jones at Cambridge University’s McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research reports that the Nazca peoples hurried along their own demise by razing groves of huarango trees integral to the desert ecosystem they inhabited. The huarango, a tree that can live for more than a millenium but is threatened today in its native Peruvian habitat,  plays a key role in fixing moisture and nitrogen into the desert soil and maintaining its fertility. By wiping out the trees to plant more cotton and corn, a civilization that flourished for centuries exposed itself to the desertification, soil erosion, and flash El Niño flooding that eventually led to its demise. For more info, you can check out the McDonald Institute’s archive for news clips and an interview with the doctor himself, or settle in for this excellent short documentary on the huarango: “The King of the Desert is Dying.”

The Nazca Tree geoglyph, a huarango?

With humans having cut down half the planet’s original forests, mostly in the second half of the twentieth century, and with 13 million hectares still being lost annually, the Nazca example should stand as a clear warning of the devastating affects deforestation and ecosystem destruction can have on human civilizations. Ecosystem destruction isn’t just the stuff of  treehuggers and captain planet fanatics anymore, it’s a threat to all humankind, as the Pentagon has duly noted. Let’s hope we can get our act together and figure out how to incentivize forest protection soon to keep our global ecosystem from going the way of Nazca’s so many years ago.

Mongo lookin pretty by the lines.

-Andy, Photos by Elliot