Nazca ‘‘Spaceport’’
A mysterious area of desert markings on the plains of Nazca,
Peru, about 250 miles southeast of Lima between the towns of
Nazca and Palpa.
This barren plateau covering 200 square miles has over
13,000 lines, 100 spirals, trapezoids, and triangles, and about
800 large animal drawings, etched in the desert through removal
of surface stones with lighter colored soil underneath.
Many of the lines extend for miles, radiating from centers like
star shapes. It is estimated that the markings were made between
400 B.C.E. and 900 C.E. and their construction may have
occupied several centuries.
During the 1970s, as part of a larger theory of ancient astronauts
having visited Earth, Erich von Däniken suggested that
these markings were the work of ancient spacemen who landed
on the plain and marked out an airfield for their spacecraft. Actually,
as early as 1955 James W. Moseley had proposed such
a hypotheses in an article in Fate magazine. In one of his later
books, Gods From Outer Space (1973), von Däniken states
‘‘At some time in the past, unknown intelligences landed on
the uninhabited plain near the present-day town of Nazca and
built an improvized airfield for their spacecraft which were to
operate in the vicinity of the earth.’’
The hypothesis has little to commend it. For example, Ronald
D. Story pointed out a number of weaknesses in von Däniken’s
reasoning in an article in the The Zetetic in 1977. First
of all, there should be no need for a runway several miles long
for a space vehicle capable of vertical landing (only modern air
liners need a long runway). Secondly, many of the lines run
right into hills, ridges, and the sides of mountains. Thirdly, the
markings are on soft, sandy soil, unsuitable for any heavy vehicle
to land on. Maria Reiche, an expert on Nazca, has commented
‘‘I’m afraid the spacemen would have gotten stuck.’’
Story cited Professor Kosok of Long Island University, who
first mapped and photographed the mysterious markings from
the air in June 1941 and discovered apparent alignment with
solstices and equinoxes. Perhaps the markings were ‘‘the largest
astronomy book in the world.’’ Similar astronomical ground
markings have been discovered in what is termed the Glastonbury
Zodiac in England.
While the ideal viewing position for such markings as Nazca
is from a point about 600 feet above the plain, it does not necessarily
follow that they were actually designed for viewing from
the air. They could be interpreted as a giant image of astronomical
mysteries, in which the construction and traversal of
competed markings might be in the nature of a religious ritual.
Many magical ceremonies involve physical traversing of geometrical
forms inscribed on the ground.
An ingenious theory cited by Story is that of the International
Explorers Society (IES) of Florida, who suggested that the
‘‘chariots of the gods’’ sailing over Nazca might have been ancient
smoke balloons piloted by early Peruvians. This theory
was presented in some detail by IES member Jim Woodman in
his book NAZCA Journey to the Sun (1977). Woodman has discovered
that the thousands of ancient gravesites around Nazca
contain finely woven textiles (suitable for balloon fabric), braided
rope, and ceramic pottery. One clay pot has a picture suggesting
a hot-air balloon with tie ropes.
It is not generally known that manned balloon flights were
recorded in Brazil as early as 1709, when Bartolomeu de Gusmao
made his first flight on August 8.
Jim Woodman has actually tested his theory in collaboration
with balloonist Julian Nott. They constructed a balloon using
the same materials as those available to the ancient Nazcans.
The envelope used cotton fabric similar to that in the gravesites;
the basket for pilot and co-pilot was woven from native fibers.
On November 28, 1975, Woodman and Nott actually flew
their balloon (named Condor I) over the Nazca plains.
However, this impressive demonstration hardly settles the
mystery of Nazca, since it is not plausible that the Nazcans
would have spent centuries constructing these markings for the
benefit of occasional balloonists to view from the air. Validation
of the theory would require evidence of a religious and cultural
milieu in which such balloonists had maintained an elite status
for hundreds of years, and it is hardly likely that such balloons
would have vanished without a trace.
Charroux, Robert. The Mysteries of the Andes. New York
Avon, 1977.
Clark, Jerome. Encyclopedia of Strange and Unexplained Phenomena.
Detroit Gale Research, 1993.
Morrison, Tony. Pathways to the Gods The Mystery of the Andes
Lines. London Granada Publishing, 1980.
Moseley, James W. ‘‘Peruvian Desert Map for Saucers’’ Fate
8, no. 10 (October 1055) 28–33.
Story, Ronald D. ‘‘Von Däniken’s Golden Gods.’’ The Zetetic
2, no. 1 (1977).
Von Däniken, Erich. Chariots of the Gods Unsolved Mysteries
of the Past. New York G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1970.