A highly detailed study of the Nazca Lines in Peru has concluded they were used for ceremonial progressions, and at least some connect to form a labyrinth.
Two U.K. archaeologists walked 1,500 kilometers (nearly 1,000 miles) over five years to gain a better understanding of these geoglyphs in southern Peru.
Discovered in the 1920s, the Nazca Lines are highly visible from the air, criss-crossing the world’s driest desert, where they persist due to the lack of rain and wind.
They were probably created by the Nazcas, who lived from 200 B.C. to A.D. 700, but their function is unknown. Some have theorized they are associated with UFOs, because they are only visible from high altitudes.
The researchers looked at the layers of designs, studied associated ceramic relics, and also used satellite imagery. They made the discovery of the 4.4-kilometer-long (2.7 miles) labyrinth, including a spiral formation, while walking it.
“This labyrinth was meant to be walked, not seen,” said study co-author Clive Ruggles at the University of Leicester, according to ScienceNews.
“The element of surprise was crucial to the experience of Nazca labyrinth walking.”
There is relatively little damage to the rocks along the path, suggesting people took care while walking there, perhaps shamans or pilgrims. The large numbers of people crossing the desert to the pilgrimage center of Cahuachi followed different trackways and steered clear of the labyrinth.
“Meandering and well-worn trans-desert pathways served such functional purposes, but they are quite different from the arrow-straight lines and geometric shapes which seem more likely to have had a spiritual and ritual purpose,” said study co-author Nicholas Saunders at the University of Bristol in a press release.
“It may be, we suggest, that the real importance of some of these desert drawings was in their creation rather than any subsequent physical use.”
The study was published in the journal Antiquity.
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