Pseudoarchaeology Research Archive (PARA)
Cite as: Johnson, Emma. 2007. The 'Mysterious' Nazca Lines. PARA Web Bibliography B-01. http://pseudoarchaeology.org/b01-johnson.html
The “Mysterious” Nazca Lines
A Bibliographical Tour of the Internet
May 5, 2007
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA.
The purpose of this bibliography is to expose the reader to the many inaccurate, confusing, and sometimes ridiculous theories that are held about the famous Nazca lines in Peru. While a great deal of legitimate scholarship has been written that studies their construction, purpose, variability, and place in the chronology of Andean prehistory, most of this research has been systematically ignored by popular pseudoarchaeologists in favour of more sensational theories that emphasize their mystery, antiquity, and originality. These theories are increasingly found and widely circulated online. While they must be recognized and ultimately discarded, it is important to note that the difference between pseudo- and mainstream archaeology may not be, in the case of the Nazca lines, a simple dichotomy. Many websites continue to cite the work of Andean scholars while simultaneously misrepresenting their theories and combining them with pseudoscientific ones; therefore, the following bibliography must be treated with the same skepticism that it promotes, as it often refers to pseudoarchaeological ideas that are in fact based on legitimate scholarship. I have organized and categorized these theories to the best of my ability, starting with the ones that most heavily rely on Andean academia as their inspiration. While I am not including all of the sites I have found – many are repetitive, and some blatantly plagiarize each other – included here are the most comprehensive and most recent sites that attempt to explain the “mystery” of the Nazca lines.
All websites and sources retrieved on March 11, 2007.
The “Mysterious” Nazca Lines: Which Theories are Pseudo-Theories?
Nazca Lines Theories. from
This site provides an excellent introduction to Nazca line theory. Though it is predominantly pseudoarchaeological, some Andean scholars such as Anthony Aveni, Helaine Silverman and William H. Isbell are also cited. Many of these theories will be discussed below, although some, such as Thomas Wick’s belief that the lines represent the plan of a cathedral, can no longer be found online; this suggests that the site is somewhat outdated, and only emphasizes how quickly Internet-based theories can change or disappear.
Nazca Lines and Culture. from
The Nazca Lines. from
These two sites provide excellent examples of typical pseudoarchaeological descriptions of the Nazca lines. They have all the common markers: little or no information about the author; a rhetoric of mystery that makes the construction of the lines (and their builders) unknown and possibly unknowable; captions on all the photos that shock the reader with almost no explanation or relevant text; images strategically paired with carvings from other cultures to insinuate hyper-diffusion; a few out-of-place sentences that make bold statements without any supporting information; a list, in part plagiarized from the above site or vice versa, that explains all the theories without clearly choosing one; and finally, a convoluted and poorly researched history of the Nazca people and Cahuachi, the region’s main archaeological site. Admittedly, the site from Crystalinks does acknowledge that humans built the lines (see below for those that do not), and also mentions Nazca mummy bundles and polychrome pottery – perhaps a sign that someone has done their research. However, both represent typical pseudoarchaeological sites that can easily be mistaken for trustworthy ones because they provide a few tantalizingly accurate details.
A Map of the Stars: Archaeoastronomical Theories
Doore, Kathy. Maria Reiche: The Nazca Lines Theory. from
By far the most popular theories that emerge about the Nazca lines, both in legitimate and pseudo-archaeological websites, are those that involve archaeoastronomy. Maria Reiche was a research assistant of Paul Kosok, the first to study the Nazca lines, and she has since been dubbed the mother of Nazca research by pseudo- and mainstream archaeologists alike. Her almost mythic status in the field can be seen in numerous websites dedicated to her memory; this site is simply one example of such a trend. It tells the rather romantic story of her dedication to the Nazca lines that resulted in her moving to the area to protect and study the sites. Her theories, based on a background in mathematics, revolved around the concept that the lines represented an astronomical calendar and observatory. These ideas, and at the very least Reiche’s life story, weigh heavily on the minds of pseudoarchaeologists who see her as a pioneer in the field (Belokon, below, calls her “the Guardian Angel of the Nazca plateau”).
Edgar, Robin. 2000. The Nazca Lines and the “Eye in the Sky”: How Total Solar Eclipses Inspired the Nazca Lines and Geoglyphs. from
Representing an astronomical explanation that is based more in pseudoarchaeology, Robin Edgar believes the lines and anthropomorphic/animal images were designed for the eyes of all-seeing gods that live in the sky. The Nazca concept of this eye is largely based on viewing solar eclipses, which Edgar seems to believe look like human eyes, and claims that this theme is present in many ancient civilizations worldwide. Interestingly enough, this site is a reproduction of Edgar’s work by another individual; the author seems to have taken the original website offline. This makes it even more difficult to determine if anyone, even the author, supports or continues this work.
Belokon, Alla. 2000. The Mystery of the Nazca Lines and Geoglyphs: The View from Russia. from
A more extreme example of an astronomical perspective on the Nazca lines is this poorly translated site explaining the theories of Russian pseudoscientist Alla Belokon. Best summarized in his own words, he “suggests that the Nazca lines represent our Solar system planets as crystal structure nodes, and were built by a flow of directed energy of unknown nature from the air.” His claims that they display exact and advanced mathematical knowledge are not unlike other theories about the lines (see Munck, below). Most surprising to any archaeologist is his claim that the lines are impossible to make by hand, and that it would have taken more than 100,000 man-years to construct. Instead, Belokon says, they were built from a flow of energy, and therefore imitate optical diagrams. The mathematics of the lines indicate locations of planets in the solar system (numbered by how far away they are from the sun – the Earth is 3, for example). Although convoluted and difficult to understand, he seems to believe that there is some connection being made between our solar system and another unknown system, with Earth as the intermediary. While concluding this page with a disclaimer that he doesn’t want to “decrease the significance” of the ancient Peruvian cultures, this page only represents the beginning of Belokon’s bizarre theories about the Nazca: he continues elsewhere in his site to explain the significance of the anthropomorphic and animal drawings. He mysteriously concludes on another linked page (http://alla-belokon.narod.ru/scheme_fin.html) with a rhetorical question: “What is this layout supposed to tell us? Or is it a sort of warning?”
Irrigation (and Dowsing): Agricultural Theories
Johnson, David. The Water Lines of Nazca. from
While admittedly the redirecting of water and the exploitation of underground resources were essential parts of Andean life, Johnson suggests that the Nazca lines were built to exploit aquifers that he has supposedly found using dowsing, a highly controversial method of locating underground water supplies using metal rods. He claims that dowsing was probably used by the Nazca to locate water in the same way. This theory sits in opposition to, and takes away from, some legitimate agricultural theories that associate the lines with surface drainage systems and the religious and spiritual connotations of running water in Andean culture.
Proulx, Donald. The Nazca Lines Project (1996-2000). from
A project by Donald Proulx at University of Massachusetts in collaboration with David Johnson (see above) concluding that the Nazca lines were designed as an irrigation system to provide pathways for ground water. While they seem to use a scientific method and test this claim in the Nazca valley, later in the page he mentions Johnson’s use of dowsing and “his perceived ability to locate and trace the flow of water underground”. Proulx sounds skeptical that this theory is true for all the Nazca lines, but appears to be convinced for a few of them. The bibliography includes several actual Andean scholars, including Anthony Aveni, Paul Kosok, Maria Reiche, and Helaine Silverman, but also includes Erich von Daniken; this makes the site particularly difficult to evaluate and blurs the line between its pseudo- and mainstream archaeological components.
Experimental Archaeology: Prehistoric Balloon Theories
Nott, Julian. The Extraordinary Nazca Prehistoric Balloon. from
Julian Nott describes on his website an experiment that he conducted with his colleague Jim Woodman. They successfully flew a hot-air balloon built with technology available to the Nazca, claiming that it would have been necessary to see the lines from the air in order to ensure their accuracy and plan the drawings themselves. While the use of experimental archaeology provides an interesting insight into our perceptions of ancient technology and the abilities of prehistoric peoples, Woodman and Nott make the assumption that the Nazca people were incapable of imaginative and abstract thought that would have allowed them to perceive the final image of the lines without viewing them for themselves.
The Oldest GPS in the World: Archaeocryptographical Theories
Munck, Carl. Nazca Lines and Archaeocryptography. from
Carl Munck, a so-called archaeocryptographer, views many ancient monuments as “codes” that reflect their latitude and longitude on the globe; in essence, he sees the Nazca lines as a primitive map. Using a complex and pretty illogical series of numbers associated with random attributes of the line he calls Manos, he says that the image is attempting to describe its position on the globe. In order for his theory to work, he changes the Greenwich Prime Meridian to the Giza pyramids, claiming that “the ancients” would not have known about Greenwich but would have surely known about Giza. According to this theory, the Nazca understood complex arithmetic, the Old World 360-degree system, and more importantly global positioning and the location of the equator.
Just Wait ‘Til 2012: Catastrophic Theories
Bast, Robert. 2006. The Nazca Lines. from
This is the first of five pages in which Bast suggests that the lines indicate a “cyclical global catastrophe”. Since they last a long time, use a universal language, and include coded information, they will be helpful for surviving 2012, his projected end of the world based on the completely unrelated Mayan calendar. From a “catastrophic viewpoint”, he notes that there is one picture of every major animal group, representing death and “the end of the line”; he contrasts this with Noah’s ark, a story in which two of each animal symbolizes “fertility and survival”. Bast connects the two ideas by positing that the Nazca lines represent a great flood, pointing out the irony that they are in such a dry landscape (which he mistakenly claims could not hold an advanced or populous civilization). He also suggests that the straight Nazca lines, with star-like radiating centres, could be a map of Orion’s belt, citing the Egyptian pyramids as precedent for this theory. He interprets all of this as a global set of coded messages suggesting that another flood is approaching (presumably sometime in 2012).
Thank You, von Daniken: Alien Astronaut Theories
Decker, Nathan. 2005. Timeline of our Mysterious World: A chronological listing of Aliens, UFOs, Conspiracies, Cover-Ups, Monsters and other weirdness! from
This site is a rather eclectic and sometimes humorous chronology of all the major paranormal, pseudoscientific and pseudoarchaeological theories that have been popular in the last few decades. Most interesting for our purposes is the entry at 13,000,000BC, that the Ica Stones display great technological and medical advancements and also describe the Nazca lines. At 800BC, “aerial landing strips” are built in Peru, presumably referring again to the Nazca lines; the theory that the lines are either ancient landing strips or human attempts to call back aliens (similar to modern cargo cults) was popularized by Erich von Daniken, and has since become a staple in the pseudoarchaeological world. Regardless of the confusion of exactly when the lines were constructed, both dates given are far too early to be accurate. This only reiterates the common pseudoarchaeological practice of faulty chronology and vague dates that are meant to illustrate the artifact’s antiquity and ancient, “mysterious” status.
UFO Area. The Mystery of Nazca Drawings. from
This site is an excellent archetype of an “alien astronaut” site that includes information on the Nazca lines. In typical pseudoarchaeological style, this site never explicitly states that the lines are landing strips, calendars, or signs of any kind; instead, the author (named only UFO Area) implies these facts through strategically placed captions, questions, and images. The site also follows the common practice of using mysterious language, emphasizing that “no one knows” who built the Nazca lines or why. Finally, once again, the site uses sources from real Andean scholars like Paul Kosok to prove its point, causing confusion for any reader who is not familiar with prehistoric Latin American archaeology.
Doore, Kathy. The Nazca Spacesport and the Ica Stones of Peru. from
Though predominantly focusing on interpretations of the Ica Stones, theories supported on this page refer to the Nazca lines as the “Nazca port” from which a technologically advanced ancient civilization left the Earth to settle on a new planet. According to this narrative, the lines are an “energy matrix and electronic field”, displaying the electromagnetic energy that was harnessed by this civilization, known as Gliptolithic man. The lines are “magnetically stamped” onto the surface and what we see today are the mere remnants of the originals used to propel and navigate ships into the atmosphere before leaving the solar system. The site characteristically alludes to a government cover-up, claiming that the Peruvian government refuses to acknowledge or study the evidence. The site also suggests that, since the Ica stones supposedly depict images of dinosaurs, the Nazca lines are much older than previously suspected.
A Retracted Theory: Alan Alford and the Negroid Slaves
Alford, Alan F. 1996. Chapter 14: The Toil of Gods and Men. from Gods of the New Millennium. from
Alan Alford’s original theory, here reproduced in a chapter from his book, combines several pseudoarchaeological theories. He believes that the Nazca lines are an act of vandalism made by “Negroid” slaves working at Tiwanaku, a site located at the base of Lake Titicaca. He claims that when the slaves rebelled and stole the aircraft of Ishkur, originally a Babylonian-Assyrian god, they flew above the Nazca valley and created images that mocked the god, simultaneously destroying some of his earlier works (which were made using advanced technology that directed a “cutting beam” to the surface). This theory combines elements of hyper-diffusionism, including the assumption that Negroid slaves somehow made it to South America in a pre-colonial era, and the alien astronaut theory, describing Mesopotamian gods as living individuals with the technology to fly. He also uses imagery from other cultures and time periods, such as Tiwanaku, Olmec, and even Easter Island, to prove that these slaves traveled and settled in distant regions all over the world. If we go to Alford’s official site (http://www.eridu.co.uk/), he clearly cites von Daniken as one of his inspirations, and this is not surprising considering the content of his theories.
marduk. Thu Jan 25, 2007. Post from
After reading about Alford’s theory indirectly on other sites, I initially had difficulty finding the original document online. I searched through every site I could find that talked about Negroid slaves building the Nazca lines, but Alford’s official site does not mention such a theory at all. This post, if accurate, may explain why this is the case. It quotes not only the theory itself, but also Alford’s 2005 retraction of the theory and many of his other ideas from Gods of the New Millennium. He has, in fact, written a new foreword for the latest edition of the book that withdraws many of his earlier statements (more information on this can again be found on his website; this post directs you to the exact location). This is merely one example of how misleading information on the Internet can be: theories no longer held – even by their creators – are treated by others as contemporary and supported beliefs without any chronological context.
Alford, Alan F. 1998. The Mystery of the Nazca Lines. from
This appears to be Alford’s latest thoughts on the Nazca lines; the words ‘slave’, ‘Negroid’, and ‘Ishkur’ do not appear at all. In fact, this appears to be a relatively well-researched review of the work of Andean scholars such as Maria Reiche, Anthony Aveni and Johan Reinhard. He seems to particularly support the work of Reinhard, who believes that the lines should be viewed as religious artifacts connected to concepts of water, fertility, and the worship of mountains as divine ancestors (all recognized aspects of Andean religion). However, he ends on a characteristically pseudoarchaeological note and, unable to understand the worship of inanimate objects, he claims that “our best guess must surely be that the Nazcans derived their gods from their experiences of fireballs in the sky and meteorites falling to the Earth.”
A Final Test
Alien Runways and Hallucinogenic Cacti. from
While not a reliable source for legitimate archaeological information, this fun and informative quiz will test your knowledge of the main pseudoarchaeological theories held about the Nazca lines, many of which were covered in the above bibliography. Once you have submitted your answers, the authors of the quiz give you your results with additional information, and will tell you how many people have answered correctly. Surprisingly, the average score for this test is 8/10. I can only hope that this is not a sign that people are overwhelmingly familiar with pseudo- rather than mainstream archaeological information about the Nazca lines; instead, I hope this kind of awareness is an indication that these theories are not taken too seriously by the general population.