Visiting the ancient Incan citadel of Machu Picchu might, for some, be considered the highlight of any trip to Peru. But not for Johny Isla, head of the Ministry of Culture in Peru’s Ica province and co-director of the Nasca-Palpa Project. Inspired not by stunning pictures of the hiking trails but by a catalog of archaeological research, Isla enlisted a team of specialists to help him find and restore a geoglyph older than any other previously discovered in the area. According to analysis made on the soil, the ancients carved an image of the lord of the oceans into the hillside around 200 BC.
After first seeing the photograph in a book in 2013, which had been taken by German archaeologists in the 1960s who could not later lead people to the site, Isla decided to track it down. But, he says, “It was not easy to find it” due to inaccurate details of exactly where in the Peruvian Palpa Desert the geoglyph was located. It depicts an orca (killer whale), which was considered to be a deity by the ancient civilizations of the region. A number of ceramic and pottery artifacts made in the image of an orca have been found in the Palpa-Nazca area of Peru.
After hunting on Google Earth, and then scouring the area on foot, Isla and his team managed to locate the geoglyph roughly 250 miles south from the Peruvian capital of Lima in January 2015, after months of surveying. The badly eroded orca image measures 230 feet in length and has remained undetected for so long partly due to its poor state, but also because of its secluded location. After Isla and his research team located it, they performed soil analysis. They also cleaned and restored the entire figure.
In Peru, geoglyphs are found in abundance. The smallest of these artworks are only a few feet in length, while some are miles long. They were created by the ancient people who thrived in the region and some dub them “the first murals” ever produced by humans.
Apart from the killer whale image, there are other symbols that were likely put there in some religious context. The geoglyph style gives a hint that it is the product of the Nazca people, who created plenty more such gigantic pictograms across the region, the prominent Nazca Lines included. However, the way some parts of it are done raises the possibility that the killer whale was actually the work of the older civilization that occupied the area, the Paracas.
It is known that the region had once been the homelands of the Paracas, in between 800 and 200 BC, predating the Nazcas by at least a century. It was priests who reigned within their society. According to Markus Reindel, from the German Archaeological Institute in Bonn, if the date of the geoglyph is 100 percent accurate, that means this is indeed the oldest example ever discovered.
Since the 1990s, when both Isla and Reindel carried out their first surveys of the Peruvian deserts, they have discovered more than 1,000 geoglyphs.
The first geoglyphs ever identified were discovered in the early decades of the 20th century. Estimates say that geoglyphs attributed both to the Paracas and the Nazcas are scattered over an area covering more than 170 square miles. To date, it is still a mystery why these images were produced, although many experts in the field believe that they served religious purposes.
Some believe that the famous Nazca lines can only be appreciated from a view far above, but others say they are actually visible from surrounding foothills. The lines can be miles long, and could perhaps have indicated the positions of the sun and celestial bodies.