Articles

Walking the Mysterious and Monumental Nazca Lines

by Allison Meier on August 12, 2014

Edward Ranney, Viscas River Valley, 2001. © Ed Ranney

Edward Ranney, “Viscas River Valley” (2001) (© Ed Ranney) (all images courtesy Yale University Press)

Sandstorms shifting the terrain of southwest Peru recently revealed new Nazca Lines. Hundreds of the geoglyphs in the desert were already known, showing animals, plants, and geometric designs etched in the earth at an incredible scale, the largest a 935-foot pelican. Yet the purpose of these ancient drawings, produced between about 500 BCE to 500 CE, remains one of history’s enigmas.

These newly exposed Nazca Lines were spotted by pilot Eduardo Herrán Gómez de la Torre, Phys.org reported. It was also from a plane that Long Island University Professor Paul Kosok first perceived the lines in 1939, an observation that would launch them into contemporary archaeological study. The allure of the puzzle of their function, from theories on an astronomical purpose to a labyrinth, has enticed researchers for decades. However, from the air isn’t how they were seen by the people who carved away iron-oxide stones to reveal the lighter clay in one-line images of a hummingbird, lizard, spider, whale, flowers, zigzags, and odder figures that appear like humans with animalistic features. It was from the ground.

Edward Ranney, Palpa Valley, 2004. © Ed Ranney

Edward Ranney, “Palpa Valley” (2004) (© Ed Ranney)

It’s this perspective that photographer Edward Ranney has documented since 1985, walking the 2,000-year-old lines with his large-format camera. Traveling in Peru as well as in Chile with archaeologists and local guides, his perspective in black and white gives them a majesty and mystery similar to early landscape photographers like Carleton Watkins.

This month, his newest monograph on the ancient art — The Lines, including an essay from Lucy R. Lippard — is being released by Yale University Press. Ranney told PetaPixel in a July interview that the book “represents one person’s interest in finding these glyphs and photographing them in the context in which their creators experienced them.” He adds that he hopes “pictures of them will increase others’ respect for them — they are by nature very fragile, easily wrecked by vehicles and even excessive foot-traffic.”

Despite their high-profile and restrictions on trespassers to the Nazca plain, there’s been recent destruction like in 2013 when some were wrecked by heavy machinery. And by viewing them from the surface, where the incredible distance of the lines can be more readily perceived, you can also see the delicate side of this ancient art dug from stones out on an arid plateau.

Edward Ranney, Nazca Pampa, 1985. © Ed Ranney

Edward Ranney, “Nazca Pampa” (1985) (© Ed Ranney)

Edward Ranney, Nazca Valley, 2009. © Ed Ranney

Edward Ranney, “Nazca Valley” (2009) (© Ed Ranney)

Edward Ranney, Nazca Pampa, 1985. © Ed Ranney

Edward Ranney, “Nazca Pampa” (1985) (© Ed Ranney)

Edward Ranney, Cerro Unitas, Pampa Tamarugal, Chile, 2006. © Ed Ranney

Edward Ranney, “Cerro Unitas, Pampa Tamarugal, Chile” (2006) (© Ed Ranney)

Edward Ranney, Aroma Valley, Chile, 2006. © Ed Ranney

Edward Ranney, “Aroma Valley, Chile” (2006) (© Ed Ranney)

The Lines by Edward Ranney is available from Yale University Press. Photographs of the newly revealed geoglyphs can be found at Peru’s El Comercio.

  • Subscribe to the Hyperallergic newsletter!

Hyperallergic welcomes comments and a lively discussion, but comments are moderated after being posted. For more details please read our comment policy.

Previous post:

Next post: