The enigmatic geoglyph, which has been dated to between 200 and 100 B.C., is estimated to be older than any other previously unearthed in Peru’s Nazca area.
The 120-foot-long cat sculpture was cut into a mountainside about 250 miles southeast of Lima. It’s around 120 feet long, with broad, orb-like eyes and a sunbathing appearance.
Because of its placement on a very steep slope, the new Nazca line etching was discovered just as it was about to vanish, leaving it more vulnerable to erosion than most previous geoglyphs. The sheltering feline remained hidden until recently, when work on a new walkway leading to an observation platform began (see first image above). The statue has been cleaned and conserved, according to Peru’s Ministry of Culture.
The Nazca lines are a series of massive designs carved into the earth by the Nazca civilisation in the region of modern-day Peru between 500 BCE and 500 CE. The lines were discovered in 1927 by Peruvian archaeologist Toribio Mejia Xesspe, who carved depressions into the desert floor by removing pebbles and dirt, revealing a lighter-colored soil under the reddish-brown surface.
The etchings, also known as geoglyphs, are primarily straight lines over the terrain, but some of them portray a variety of creatures, including a monkey, spider, hummingbird, whale, fish, and humanoids – similar to many other prehistoric images.
According to the EFE news agency, Johny Isla, Peru’s senior archaeologist for the Nazca Lines, the massive cat artwork predates the Nazca civilisation and was constructed between 500 BCE and 200 CE during the late Paracas dynasty. That would make the cat the area’s earliest geoglyph ever unearthed.
But why did these ancient civilizations go to such efforts to carve massive symbols into the earth? We don’t know for sure, but some archaeologists have speculated that they may have been used as navigation markers or for the enjoyment of deities in the sky.
Only one thing appears to be certain: “the concentration and juxtaposition of the lines, as well as their cultural continuity, show that this was an important and long-lasting activity, spanning about one thousand years,” according to UNESCO.
As a result, UNESCO declared the Nazca Lines as a World Heritage Site in 1994. And, as technology advances, the site continues to grow in size as more archaic photos are unearthed.
Researchers at Yamagata University in Japan, for example, employed artificial intelligence to improve the visuals of 143 line drawings in 2019, exposing the outlines of live and mythological animals such as an angular bird-like animal and a two-headed serpent.
And who knows what else we’ll find tucked up there? The narrative of the Nazca Lines is still unfolding.