The Nazca Lines in the desert plains of southern Peru, are one of those great unsolved mysteries. Of all the geoglyphs, the 16 birds represented in these enigmatic lines are the ones that have most frequently triggered the human imagination for centuries, including that of many ufologists who have wanted to see giant landing strips for aliens. A group of Japanese ornithologists, led by Professor Masaki Eda of the Hokkaido University Museum in Japan, have taken their time to identify these drawings more accurately and their results have just appeared in the Journal of Archeological Science Reports.
Eda and colleagues Takeshi Yamasaki, from the Yamashina Institute of Ornithology, and Masato Sakai, from Yamagata University in Japan, have applied a taxonomic approach to identify the 16 bird geoglyphs among more than 2,000 drawings present in the area, studying the relations between organisms and their evolutionary history. “So far, the birds in these drawings have been identified based on general impressions or a few morphological features present in each figure. We closely observe the relative shapes and sizes of beaks, heads, necks, bodies, wings, legs and tails of birds. And we compare them with those of modern birds in Peru, ” explains Eda.
As a result, one of the most famous figures, a hummingbird about 50 meters long, was the first to fall from its species tree. Due to its long thin beak, short legs, three fingers in the same direction and long tail, the hummingbird, previously identified as such, has been reclassified as a hermit. Other drawings of birds that are believed to be condors or flamingos did not have the essential characteristics to validate such identifications, but were too inconsistent with modern Peruvian birds to justify a new classification. “ The people of Nazca who drew the images may have seen pelicans while collecting food on the coast. Our findings show that they drew exotic birds, not local birds, and this could give us a clue as to why they drew them,” says Eda.
The researchers hope to go further and identify all the figures that are still missing when compared with the birds in the pottery exhumed in the region and dating from the same era. Meanwhile, the new question is how the culture was born to reproduce images of birds that did not live in their lands.