The Lady of the Lines

By looking at the Nasca plan, one immediately suspects that the straight lines can be astronomically oriented, and that the zoomorphic figures could represent constellations. However, in the 1930s, when the lines were discovered, the interest of ancient peoples for the sky was unknown, and only Lockyer and a few other scholars dared to suggest that places like Stonehenge were linked to astronomy or that the ancient Egyptians knew astronomy. From this point of view, the explorer-archaeologist Paul Kosok, who was the first to understand the importance of the lines and to suggest an astronomical explanation, is to be considered a pioneer. Kosok discovered by chance that some of the lines were oriented toward the setting sun at the solstices (and, rightly, he had himself photographed triumphantly near one of them). Unfortunately, though, he consequently offered a half-baked explanation of the whole system—that the Nasca lines were a gigantic astronomy treaty written on the pampa.

In 1930, a young German mathematician, Maria Reiche, moved to Peru and started working as a restorer for the National Museum in Lima. Then

Figure 11.3: Paul Kosok in front of a solstitial alignment at Nasca

she learned about the lines, and she moved to Nasca, where she lived the rest of her life exploring the pampas and dedicating herself to the preservation of the geoglyphs (Maria died there on June 6, 1988). She deserves enormous credit for the preservation of the Nasca lines, and was the first person to embark on the titanic enterprise of mapping all the lines. She also discovered the probable unit of measurement used by the Nascas, and proposed a reasonable hypothesis regarding the way the drawings were made.

According to Reiche the drawings were first traced in chalk on large pieces of rough fabric. The designs were then enlarged to the scale chosen for the ground drawings, with the aid of ropes, sticks, and wooden calipers.

Reiche also carried on Kosok's research about the interpretation of the lines and was herself convinced that the key to understand Nasca was astronomy; for instance, she suggested that the monkey and the spider were representations of two Nasca constellations, corresponding to our Orion and Big Dipper (Reiche 1980). Reiche's idea, later explored by Phylliss Pitluga, was that the Nasca plain hosted a global project with a specific, single astronomical aim. However, she was never able to find the key to such a project.

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