Explained: What is the giant cat drawing at a UNESCO World Heritage site in Peru?

  • Context: Peru’s famous Nazca Lines, a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its depictions of larger-than-life animals, plants and imaginary beings, grabbed the spotlight on social media recently after the discovery of a hitherto unknown massive carving –– that of a resting cat, believed to be more than 2,000 years old, on the slope of a steep hill.

Analysis

What are the Nazca Lines?

  • Considered among the top places to visit in Peru, the Nazca Lines are a group of geoglyphs, or large designs made on the ground by creators using elements of the landscape such as stones, gravel, dirt or lumber.
  • These are believed to be the greatest known archaeological enigma, owing to their size, continuity, nature and quality.
  • The images on the ground are so big in size that the best way to get a full view of them is overflying them.
  • Drawn more than 2 millennia ago on the surface of southern Peru’s arid Pampa Colorada (“Red Plain” in Spanish), the geoglyphs feature different subjects, but mainly plants and animals.
  • There are also geometric shapes, such as triangles, trapezoids and spirals, and some have been associated with astronomical functions.
  • The Lines were first discovered in 1927, and were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1994.
  • Scientists believe that the majority of lines were made by the Nasca people, who flourished from around A.D. 1 to 700.
  • The rocks which cover the desert have oxidized and weathered to a deep rust color, and when the top 12-15 inches of rock is removed, a light-colored, high contrasting sand is exposed.
  • Because there’s so little rain, wind and erosion, the exposed designs have stayed largely intact for 500 to 2000 years.
  • It seems likely that most of the lines did not point at anything on the geographical or celestial horizonbut rather led to places where rituals were performed to obtain water and fertility of crops; the region receives only about 20 minutes of rain per year

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