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Hidden for centuries beneath the sand and stone of Peru’s Nazca Desert, strong winds have revealed previously unknown giant geoglyphs. Spotted from the air by pilot and researcher Eduardo Herrán Gómez de la Torre, a bird, camelids, and what may be a 60 metre long snake are among the shapes identified so far. From the few photos released, the new geoglyphs are distinctly different in style to the more famous lines such as the condor pictured below. Archaeologists are currently assessing the authenticity of the geoglyphs, how old they are, and where they fit in the menagerie of animals and geometric designs that cover an area approximately 280 square miles.

Hopefully the discovery adds to our understanding of the Nazca Lines, whose purpose has remained a mystery since they were first presented to the Western world in 1939. German mathematician Maria Reiche, who set up home among the geoglyphs and dedicated her life to deciphering the lines, amassed evidence showing they had astronomical meaning. The spider has since been identified with the constellation Orion. The lines may also have practical uses, identifying sources of water, vital for survival in one of the driest places on Earth.

More sensationally, Erich von Däniken wondered in his 1968 book Chariots of the Gods if the lines were landing strips for extraterrestrial visitors. The late Philip Coppens also thought the lines were intended to be seen from above; not by alien aircraft but shamanic flight, out of body experiences induced by altered states of consciousness.

Nazca Lines spider Peru Amazon Inca

Many of the animals represented are not native to the Nazca plateau. The monkey and hummingbird, for example, are all found on the other side of the Andes. The magnificent spider has been identified as a type known as Ricinulei, an arachnid so rare it has only been found in remote parts of the Amazon rainforest. The wildlife and geometric designs combine to present an enigmatic cosmology lost to time. It’s easy to understand Reiche’s passion for the geoglyphs, and the lure of their mystery.

In his book Fingerprints of the Gods, Graham Hancock mentions the 16th century Spanish traveler Luis de Monzon, who collected local traditions linking the lines to the Viracocha, a red-bearded god who brought civilisation to the pre-Inca world and whose companions may have been survivors of a lost civilisation. I’m sure if you asked him today, Graham would agree there may be a shamanic connection. Geometric shapes and animals are common in visions induced by altered states of consciousness. There is a long history of hallucinogenic use on both sides of the Andes, from ayahuasca in the Amazon to the San Pedro cactus in the highlands. I personally believe shamanism is the key to unlocking the mystery, and the ancient traditions that are still practiced in Peru today.

In his wonderful book A Sacred Landscape: The Search for Ancient Peru, historian Hugh Thompson suggests the lines were followed for ancient rituals, some of which still exist in various forms today. British archaeologist Clive Ruggles has also identified a labyrinth design at Nazca which was “not meant to be ‘seen’ from outside at all, but rather to be experienced from within. It was meant to be walked.

The Nazca lines are many things, a combination of astronomical alignments, mythology, shamanism, and ritual. However, I doubt very much that aliens, with the technology to travel vast interstellar distances, would need lines scratched in the dirt to navigate. The lines can only have been made by locals — Atlanteans, of course, in their mysterious cities of gold!