In 1927, the young Peruvian archaeologist Toribio Mejia Xesspe was hiking in the arid Nazca desert in southern Peru when he stumbled upon the Nazca lines—a discovery that would puzzle the archaeological world for decades. From his vantage point atop a plateau that stretched for nearly fifty bleak miles, he saw an immense network of clearly man-made ancient geoglyphs, or drawings etched into the earth. Though he was high above the valley floor, he was still not high enough to see the geoglyphs in their entirety and thus make out what the drawings were—but it was clear that an ancient people had labored with enormous skill to create the images and patterns of lines.
Years later, when airplane travel over the region became more frequent, the extent of his discovery was realized. Scattered over a nearly two-hundred-square-mile area was an expanse of eight hundred long, perfectly straight lines that stretched for miles, over valleys and mountains, accompanied by three hundred intricate, geometric patterns, and seventy animal and plant designs. The largest of the figures, a pelican, was almost the size of three football fields. The figures and patterns were of such oversize dimension that they could be recognized for what they were only from far above, in the sky.
The Nazca people who created these geoglyphs mysteriously disappeared around AD 500. When they did, their capital, Cahuachi, fell into disarray. Fourteen hundred years later, anthropologists went to Cahuachi to study the ancient Nazca civilization, perhaps hoping to discover the reasons for their disappearance. Yet what they found has only deepened the mysteries of the Nazca: human skeletons with strangely elongated skulls, twice the size of a regular person’s. From the enormous lines that cross the desert to the eerie skulls unearthed in its soil, the mysteries of Peru continue to challenge mainstream archaeology.