One of the stops along Peru’s Gringo Trail are the inscrutable Nazca Lines. These images, found in the middle of the Peruvian desert (one of the world’s driest deserts), are believed to have been made by the Nazca culture, a pre-Incan population that occupied the harsh desert region. While the meaning of their drawings remain a mystery, their destruction will not.
In January of this year, a truck driver heading down the highway that runs through the Lines ignored UNESCO World Heritage Site warning signs and drove his truck off the road into one of the Nazca images, causing significant damage and leading many to wonder about the future of these remarkable lines—an important conversation to have.
One of the perennial concerns around preserving the Nazca Lines is that a major highway runs right through the heart of some of the geoglyphs, raising concerns over smog damage and, of course, reckless drivers. Damaging the nearly 2,000-year-old Lines is as easy as veering off the road and running over the images or claiming a “mechanical emergency”, as the truck driver who plowed into one of the images did. The road that runs through the area is not equipped with railings or barriers to protect the lines from careening cars.
This is not the first tragedy to befall the ancient lines. In 2014, a misguided demonstration by Green Peace activists aimed at drawing attention to climate change significantly damaged the geoglyphs. The activists trekked through the maze of lines to unfurl a banner, a stunt that garnered serious attention for the wrong reasons.
The site lies in a stretch of land in the desert that is vulnerable to just about everything: climate change, cars and vandalism. With no restrictions or precautions taken thus far, the vulnerability of the site remains the same, just waiting for another unfortunate incident.
The ruins are estimated to be approximately 2,000 years old and are described by UNECSO as being “the most outstanding group of geoglyphs anywhere in the world.” As more attention is drawn to the site and its unique and outstanding features, there is hope that significant measures can be taken towards preserving the famous images. Until those steps are taken, the site will remain in danger, vulnerable to modern problems and unable to defend itself. The time to visit the Lines is now.