On January 27, 2018, a truck driver plowed into a UNESCO World Heritage site in Peru. The mysterious ancient site consists of lines drawn in the dirt, meaning it was pretty easy for the truck to damage it.
Roughly 2,000 years ago, members of a pre-Inca civilization carved the Nazca Lines into an area about 250 miles south of Lima, Peru. From the ground, it’s hard to see what the big deal is. But aerial views reveal that the lines form a large, complicated hieroglyphs whose meaning remains a puzzle.
It’s not clear why the truck driver barreled past the warning signs around the site and sped over the lines. Peru’s Attorney General says there’s not enough evidence the man intentionally damaged them, and won’t press charges.
The driver is far from the first to damage the world’s best-known example of geoglyphs: In 2014, the environmental activist organization Greenpeace got in trouble when its members placed a sign near the Nazca Lines’ hummingbird hieroglyph, leaving footprints at the site.
Historians and archaeologist aren’t sure why the etchings were made or what they mean, but many speculate that they have to do with astronomy and rituals. From above, you can see the lines form geometric shapes like squares and triangles, as well as bird, spider, and monkey images.
There are some humanoid hieroglyphs, too, like “The Astronaut,” a happy-looking figure that may remind modern viewers of a gingerbread man. There’s also a glyph that depicts decapitation, and one that appears to show a mythical creature with many legs.
Researchers in the 1940s concluded based on the lines’ positioning that they probably had astronomical and calendrical importance. Some of the hieroglyphs, for example, may have represented constellations of stars in the sky. More recent research suggests they might have been used in rain rituals.
In 2015, researchers at a Society for American Archeology meeting suggested that the Nazca Lines’ purpose could have changed over time. They posited that the lines were first used as processional routes to temples, then later used in a religious rite involving smashing pottery at the intersection of lines.
The most sensational, least plausible explanation of all is, of course, that aliens did it. Because we’ll probably never have enough evidence to definitively say why the lines were created, this theory will probably stick around for a long time.
The truth is out there—but it probably has nothing to do with UFOs.