Older than the Nazca lines: New desert geoglyphs discovered in Peru

Explore the new rock lines found in Peru that are more ancient than the Nazca lines!
by Hendrika Janssen

A mysterious discovery was recently made in Peru: ancient rock lines were found that predate the well-known Nazca lines by more than 300 years. Who constructed the rock lines? And what is the significance of the discovery? Archeologists believe that this new site was once home to ancient fairs, used to direct people to large trading sites.

Mapping the mysterious lines

The rock lines were discovered on May 5th, 2014, in the Chincha valley, located at 125 miles (200km) from Lima in Peru. This particular area has a rich history of native settlements pre-dating European contact in Peru, from at least 800 B.C. to 1500s A.D. Charles Stanish, director of Cotsen Institute of Archeology at UCLA, led the excavations with a team of researchers.

Map Peru ChinchaChincha is located in the southern coastal region of Peru, just south of Lima.
Photo by Climate Change Institute

Stanish and his team found lines that are made up of rows of carefully placed rocks near large earthen mounds. The mounds were mapped, along with the associated rock lines found in close proximity. A total of 71 geoglyph lines were found, along with 353 stacks of stones (rock cairns) which were formed into circles and rectangles, and a collection of lines that converge in a circle of rays.

Older than the Nazca lines

In the journal proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Stanish states that the structures were created by the Paracas people, a civilization arising around 800 B.C. The lines themselves are thought to date back to about 300 B.C., which would mean that they predate the Nazca lines by 300 years. The Nazca people are known for their grand geoglyphs, or rock lines, which were skillfully built into arial images representing a bird, monkey, and other animal shapes.

lines built by the Paracas people centuries prior to the Nazca people

The lines built by the Paracas people predate the Nazca lines by centuries. Photo by ZME Science

Significant findings: Trade and the coast

Thorough excavation and mapping of the area shows an intricately built environment. One significant discovery is that various long rock lines mark the exact place where the sun would have set in the June solstice. Another duo of U-shaped mounds point to the June solstice sunset, and a large area atop one mound also lines up with the solstice.

But what were the main uses of the lines? Stanish tells Live Science: “They used the lines in a different way than the Nazca… They basically created these areas of highly ritualized processions and activities that were not settled permanently.” This can most closely be compared to medieval fairs that once existed, bringing visitors from far away.

Newly discovered rock lines in Chincha

Lines and mounds were discovered by Stanish and his team. Photo via Tebogo Edgar

Some of the newly discovered lines run parallel to roads still currently in use. According to Stanish: “I don’t think people needed the signposts, but it was more kind of a ritualized thing, where you come down and everything’s prepared.”

In total the lines and mounds found are approximate 9 miles (15 km) from coast settlements. Stanish and his team believe these old “fairgrounds” were made on non-farmable land, and intended to attract nearby buyers and tradespeople from both the Andean highlands and the coast. In other words, the lines and pyramids served as ancient advertising or neon signs to attract participants, “expending time and effort and resources to make [their]place bigger and better” Stanish tells Live Science.

Paracas textile

A textile made by the Paracas people of Peru. Photo by Mike Peel


In order to prove their theories, the team wants to now excavate the pyramids in close proximity to the coast, focusing specifically on finding items that would link those settlements to the mounds and lines.

Curious or intrigued by these findings? Leave your comments and/or questions below!

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