In 2014, Greenpeace got in trouble for disturbing a mysterious World Heritage site of desert hieroglyphs known as the Nazca Lines (and in early 2018, a truck drove across them, too). The site consists of massive designs that pre-Incan people etched into the ground starting around 2,000 years ago in southern Peru. Restoration of the area opened the doors to a project that used drones to map the site and look for other glyphs. In the process, researchers unexpectedly found more than 50 new ground etchings in the nearby province of Palpa.
The new lines detected by drones are almost too thin to see with a human eye, reports National Geographic. Some of these lines probably originated with the Nazca culture, which began in 100 B.C.E. and flourished from 1 to 700 C.E., and is thought to be responsible for most of the Nazca Lines.
While the Nazca Lines depict mostly geometric shapes, plus some plants and animals, many of the ones in Palpa are of warriors. Another big difference is that the Nazca Lines stretch across flat expanses of desert, so that you can only really see the whole picture from above. In contrast, the new Palpa designs cover hillsides so that ancient people could see the design from a certain distance. Over time, they’ve become less visible because they haven’t been preserved, which is why researchers needed drones to find them today.
Many of the new Palpa lines likely come from the Topará and Paracas cultures, which predate that of the Nazcas. Previous discoveries from the Paracas culture include rock art laid around 300 B.C.E. on the Andean coast. A 2014 article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal speculated that those formations pointed the way to coastal trade fairs like highway signs. The Paracas are thought to be responsible for some of the Nazca Lines, too.
In truth, nobody knows why the Nazca Lines or these new ones in Palpa exist. Past researchers have theorized that they’re related to astronomy and calendar-keeping. Others have suggested they mapped out processional routes or were seen as a way to ensure that rain would fall.
Like crop circles and pyramids, the Nazca Lines have also served as fodder for alien conspiracy theories. Aliens are always a popular explanation for phenomena we don’t have to tools to understand; or, like the Nazca Lines, mysteries we’ll probably never fully solve. But similarly to a tiny skeleton found in Chile that was rumored to be an alien but has now been proved to be human, all the clues we need to learn about the Nazca Lines are already right here on Earth.