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To Decipher Peru’s Nazca Lines, Think Like an Ornithologist


Researchers believe the giant birds are more exotic than they seem.

From a bird’s-eye view, the Nazca desert in southern Peru is covered in feathers. Hundreds of gargantuan geoglyphs depicting birds and other creatures speckle the plateau, some as large as two-and-a-half football fields. They’re so large that they can only be seen from hundreds of feet in the air, meaning the pre-Columbian people who drew them would never have had a chance to survey their work. These etchings, called the Nazca Lines, have stumped everyone who sought to understand them, from archaeologists and anthropologists to astronomers and even UFO enthusiasts. Now, a multidisciplinary group of researchers have taken their own, ornithological approach to considering these geoglyphs, according to a study published on June 19, 2019, in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.

The Nazca people created the lines sometime between the fourth century B.C. to the 10th century A.D. While the geoglyphs represent a vast array of creatures such as monkeys and mythical beasts, birds dominate the group. To decipher them, the researchers needed to bird on a prehistoric, monumental scale. In the past, scientists studying the lines identified them as different species of birds, including two hummingbirds, a duck, a flamingo, and a long-tailed mockingbird, according to the study. But these assumptions were based on just a few traits, and the researchers claim there are some notable inconsistencies.

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Tags: #archeology, #nazca, #ornithology, #peru
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