A photo released by the Peruvian government shows the figure of a feline on a hillside in Nazca, Peru, this month.Credit...Johny Islas/Peru's Ministry of Culture-Nasca-Palpa, via Associated Press
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Large 2,000-year-old cat discovered in Peru’s Nazca lines

The Nazca lines, a Unesco World Heritage site, is home to designs on the ground – known as geoglyphs – created some 2,000 years ago.

Scientists believe the cat, as with other Nazca animal figures, was created by making depressions in the desert floor, leaving coloured earth exposed.

The cat then went unnoticed until plans were recently drawn up for a new path leading to an observation platform.

The platform would have provided a vantage point for visitors to see many of the other geoglyphs.

The condor geoglyph in the Nazca Lines south of Lima.Credit…Rodrigo Abd/Associated Press

In a statement, Peru’s culture ministry said: “The figure was scarcely visible and was about to disappear, because it’s situated on quite a steep slope that’s prone to the effects of natural erosion.”

It added that the geoglyph, which is about 37m (120ft) long, has been cleaned and conserved over the past week.

What are the Nazca lines?

The famous Nazca Lines are intricate designs in the ground that cover an estimated 170 square miles in southern Peru. The large-scale etchings depicting people, animals and objects date to 2,000 years ago, when a pre-Inca civilization laid them in the Nazca Desert. 

Many modern researchers have speculated about their meaning, but they still don’t know (and may never know) the reason they exist. And recent discoveries suggest there are still many more yet to discover.

An aerial view of some of the Nazca Lines in Peru. Some of the shapes are believed to date from at least 100 B.C.Credit…Martin Bernetti/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

How old are they?

The vast majority of the lines date from 200 BC to 500 AD, to a time when a people referred to as the Nazca inhabited the region. The earliest lines, created with piled up stones, date as far back as 500 BC.

Who made them?

The Nazca people were an ancient prehistoric culture that was successful in using engineering techniques to bring underground water to the surface for irrigation. Some of the theories regarding the purpose of the lines connect them to this need for water.

One of their largest settlements is Cahuachi, a place of ceremony that overlooks some of the lines. It contains more than 40 mounds, including pyramids made of adobe.

When were they “discovered”?

Peruvian archaeologist Toribio Mejia Xesspe was the first to study and report the Nazca Lines in detail after coming across them, on foot, in 1927. In the 1930s as air traffic in the area increased, the lines became better known, eventually attracting a steady stream of tourists.

It’s often stated that the lines can only be seen from the air; however, this is a myth. A 2007 study that looked at 1,500 drawings in the Palpa region found that “each and every geoglyph” can be spotted from the ground.

Theories and significance

The purpose of the lines continues to elude researchers and remains a matter of conjecture. Ancient Nazca culture was prehistoric, which means they left no written records.

One idea is that they are linked to the heavens with some of the lines representing constellations in the night sky. Another idea is that the lines play a role in pilgrimage, with one walking across them to reach a sacred place such as Cahuachi and its adobe pyramids. Yet another idea is that the lines are connected with water, something vital to life yet hard to get in the desert, and may have played a part in water-based rituals.

In the absence of a firm archaeological conclusion a number of fringe theories have popped up, such as the idea that the Nazca people used balloons to observe the lines from up high, something which there is no archaeological evidence for.

 

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