A truck driver who ignored warning signs drove through Peru’s ancient Nazca Lines, damaging the 2,000-year-old geoglyphs that mark the eponymous desert. The man, identified as Jainer Jesus Flores Vigo, 40, left “deep scars” on the site last Saturday, the country’s ministry of culture announced earlier this week. Authorities arrested Flores Vigo for entering the area but released him as they did not have enough evidence to prove he had acted with intent, according to CNN.
The Ministry of Culture, who is responsible for preserving the Nazca Lines, noted that the truck had left tracks in an area of 50 by 100 meters, damaging three geogylphs. The archaeological site has been off limits to pedestrians for decades, but vehicles cut through it daily on the Pan-American Highway, which runs through the site — it actually bisects a lizard and comes close to touching a tree. Flores Vigo said he was unfamiliar with the area, according to Argentine newspaper Clarín, and that he had turned off the highway due to a mechanical problem. The newspaper speculated that the driver went off the road to avoid paying a toll.
Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1994, the Nazca Lines cover about 280 square miles and depict flora, fauna, geometric figures, and other enigmas. (Last November, archaeologists confirmed that some markings represent an orca.) These lines, some of which span several miles long, have largely been preserved for millennia by their dry and windless environment; in the 1940s, the late archaeologist Maria Reiche made it her mission to protect the markings, which she also diligently studied. Today, their meaning is still widely debated. Reiche theorized that the lines symbolized an astronomical calendar, while others believe they hold religious or ritualistic significance.
Experts are now assessing the damage made by the truck, but Johnny Isla, a representative of the Culture Ministry believes that the scars are reparable. Local authorities are planning to increase surveillance on the site after the incident, according to the government-owned news agency Andina, including using drone technology to monitor activity.
“While the Culture Ministry monitors areas with the largest concentration of geoglyphs every day, [the site] may not be fully protected,” Isla said. “Entry and transit are possible through valleys and streams where the archaeological area spreads out.”
Investigations into Flores Vigo’s actions will also continue. According to Péru21, Peru’s public minister announced that Nazca’s prosecutors are appealing the initial decision to release the driver, and are seeking nine months detention for him as well as a $1,550 fine.
This is not the first time the geoglyphs have been damaged. In 2014, members of Greenpeace left irreversible damage to the Nazca Lines when they laid down large letters near one of its designs that read, “Time for Change! The future is renewable.” The next year, a local news outlet reported that an individual had inscribed his name, “Luis Tadeo,” onto the site.