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Peru will take legal action against a group of Greenpeace activists who it says damaged the Nazca lines UNESCO World Heritage site during a climate change demonstration on Monday. The activists hiked into the protected site in the Nazca desert in southern Peru without authorization and unfurled giant yellow letters alongside the centuries-old geoglyphs, which are believed to date from between 400 and 650 CE. The stunt coincided with the United Nations Lima Climate Change Conference, which ends tomorrow.
“It’s a true slap in the face at everything Peruvians consider sacred,” the country’s deputy culture minister, Luis Jaime Castillo, told the Associated Press, stressing that even foreign ministers and presidents visiting Peru for the conference were not allowed to set foot on the Nazca lines site. “They are absolutely fragile. They are black rocks on a white background. You walk there and the footprint is going to last hundreds or thousands of years.”
Peru’s government is seeking to prevent the Greenpeace activists involved in the action from leaving the country while it prepares to charge them with attacks on archaeological monuments, which could result in jail sentences of up to six years. The message, written with large letters of yellow fabric that spelled “Time for Change! The Future Is Renewable. Greenpeace,” was installed alongside the so-called “hummingbird” geoglyph, one of the site’s most iconic.
“Without reservation Greenpeace apologizes to the people of Peru for the offense caused by our recent activity laying a message of hope at the site of the historic Nazca lines. We are deeply sorry for this,” a spokesperson for the environmental group told the Guardian. “Rather than relay an urgent message of hope and possibility to the leaders gathering at the Lima UN climate talks, we came across as careless and crass.”
The Nazca lines include hundreds of images of animals, plants, and abstract forms that were created by rearranging the red rocks on the desert floor to expose the light earth beneath. Their exact origins and purpose remain a mystery, but many researchers believe they served sacred and astronomical purposes for inhabitants of the desert during the heyday of the Nazca culture. The site was added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in 1994.