Labyrinths on the Nazca Plain of Peru

The Nazca Lines are hard to appreciate because they are almost impossible to see from the ground and are massive in size. The photo below gives some perspective as it shows the highway that runs through the Nazca plain as well as  a tour bus and a couple of cars that have stopped to look at the lines from an observation tower.

Photo ©Jill K H Geoffrion, Ph.D., www.jillgeoffrion.com

 Among the ancient geoglyphs created around 500 CE by people living on the Nazca Plain in southern Peru are several labyrinths. The best known is a three circuit labyrinth.

 

Nasca Plain Labyrinth

Nazca Plain Labyrinth

 

Many of the lines were created by removing 4-6 inches of reddish gravel (iron oxide-coated pebbles) and exposing the light-colored clay below. Due to the extreme arid nature of the plateau, the massive lines and shapes have been preserved. Various theories about the purpose of these lines exist, but there is no agreement as to the functions they originally served. Most scholars believe they had a religious purpose.

On the standard fly-over the pilots focus on the famous animal geoglyphs. Many of these figures have lines that double back on themselves, a classic characteristic of labyrinths. Some, but not all, have identifiable centers.

While I didn’t see any labyrinths, my heart leapt at the sight of spirals incorporated into various figures. When trying to talk with the pilot (fluent Spanish would have helped) about labyrinths, he kept making spiral gestures. I knew there were labyrinths down there somewhere, but there were so many lines and figures to look at while the plane was making steep turns and dips that I couldn’t be sure about what I was seeing or photographing!

Lines on the Nazca Plain

Lines on the Nazca Plain

This animal figure with circles beside it looked a lot like a labyrinth to me.

Photo ©Jill K H Geoffrion, Ph.D., www.jillgeoffrion.com

If you ever have the good fortune to visit these amazing lines, I would suggest identifying specific figures that you want to see on a map of the area and showing this to the pilot ahead of time. See the photo below to know where to look for the figure shown above (next to the highway).

Photo ©Jill K H Geoffrion, Ph.D., www.jillgeoffrion.com

To read about a four mile labyrinth with a spiral passageway, see: “Desert labyrinth: lines, landscape and meaning at Nazca, Peru,” by C. Ruggles and N Saunders in Antiquity (86:334) December 2012, pp. 1126-1140.Photo ©Jill K H Geoffrion, Ph.D., www.jillgeoffrion.com

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