January 16, 2015
It’s a mystery and no one has a clue. For me it starts and ends with a Candelabrum. When you sail into and out of the port of General St. Martin you can see the 200 meter tall design in the sand. Because of the lack of rainfall it has remained there for a long time. Some people think the Candelabra is an ancient aid to navigation, some think it is an astronomical sign related to the Southern Cross, some think it points to the even more mysterious Nazca Lines to the south.
The Nazca Lines are more puzzling than the Candelabra. They are spread across 500 square kilometers of the desert. They could date, scientists think, from 900 BCE although more experts place their creation between 100 BCE and 600 CE. There are more than 800 straight lines, 300 geometric figures and 70 animal or human figures. They were made by removing the black rocks on the desert floor and exposing the gypsum below. Because of the lack of rain they are not washed away and because of the odd wind patterns they are not covered with sand. They may originate from several different cultures and some of the lines interfere with others. Modern builders put roads across some of the figures not knowing they were there. The Pan American Highway bisects the lizard.
Originally archeologists thought they marked Inca roads, but carbon dating shows they are much earlier than the Incas. One wedge shaped line points to sunrise during the (Southern Hemisphere) winter solstice. Others lines relate to the stars or the flow of water from the Andes. However, it was not until humans could fly that archeologists saw the full impact of the lines, and therefore understood them even less. As well as geometric shapes the lines depict stylized animals, a condor, a humming bird, a dog, a lizard, either a frog or a pair of hands, depending on how you look at it, an astronaut. An astronaut? Well some think it’s an astronaut, some think it is an owl faced man, our pilot thought it looked like a cat. It does look like a man with a gold fish bowl type of helmet. And this all has caused a lot of speculation. Some of the figures are pretty obvious, some are like looking at a constellation and seeing what you want to see, like is it hands or a frog.
And why would people make figures that they could see and appreciate? Were they drawing pictures for God? Had they actually developed hot air balloons so that their chiefs could see them (this is a serious theory put forth by one scientist), were they drawing them for space aliens? Where they made by space aliens? (A number of people think that, although not from the academic, scientific or archeological communities.) In a way they look like markings for a giant airport. No one knows.
The best way to see these lines is with an overflight. (There is a tower along the Pan American Highway, but from the tower you can only partially appreciate two of the figures.) Holland America does not offer a flightseeing tour (for insurance reasons, they told me) so I made arrangements on line. Our plane left from the Pisco Airport. We weighed in (literally) and the dispatcher went over everyone’s weight to put us in the right seat of the 10 passenger Cessna Caravan to allow the plane to balance as it made its maneuvers. Suzi and I got a front seats right behind the pilot.
This flightseeing trip is not for the faint of heart. You fly for between 30 and 40 minutes over the desert split by a few fertile valleys where rivers provide strips of green. Always in sight is the ocean to the west. The cold Humboldt Currant and the hot desert floor can make for some “interesting” wind conditions aloft. Seeing the terrain from above alone is worth the trip. North of Nazca the pilot tells us to get or cameras ready. To point out the figures he tilts the plane, the wingtip pointing to the figure. He turns the plane around so the people on the other side can see it. This is pretty disorienting. It was worth it although that was not immediately obvious. Giving the timing of our port call we were flying over the lines right around noon. The sun was high and there was little contrast and no shadow. While the trapezoids, rectangles and geometric figures were easy to spot, and they do look like some type of alien landing strip, the animal figures were harder to discern until we knew what we were looking for. After a few fly overs I began to pick out the figures. The first one I recognized was the whale, then the cat/astronaut, finally the hummingbird, condor, lizard, hands, and the parrot. I didn’t want to just see them through the lens of a camera. I wanted to concentrate on the real thing so I kept looking while pointing my camera, set on wide angle, in the general direction of the wingtip and, almost absent mindedly, snapped pictures. All the time my ears were popping and my stomach was banking one way while my brain banked the other. My inner ear was mightily confused. At times we were almost standing on a wingtip making a tight circle around a figure. It was over too soon for me, although not too soon for the ladies from New Zealand in the seats behind us.
Reviewing the pictures I have new respect for intelligence analysts who interpret aerial photos. I had a hard time finding what I was looking for, going over each wide angle picture blown up on the computer screen, looking for the figures I had seen with my eyes, hoping the camera picked them up. After a while I found some the figures and was able to crop and blow them up. Between Suzi and me you can see some of what we found.