Archeologists and anthropologists at Universidad Católica del Norte and San Pedro de Atacama’s Padre le Paige Museum have discovered mammoth, millennia-old geoglyphs in the harsh desert landscape near Calama in Chile’s far north. Only fully visible from above, like Peru’s celebrated Nazca Lines, these geoglyphs are the first of their kind found in Chile.
The initial findings from geologists who identified the stones on the ground were taken to the National Geographic Society, who funded the first stages of a full-scale investigation and various flyovers of the site. Once in the air above Lasana, the northern village nearest the newly discovered geoglyphs, investigators were stunned to look down on an immense array of images on the ground below.
With the information gathered from these flights, as well as visits on the ground and technology from Google Earth, investigators found nearly 100 distinct, abstract figures.
Unlike others found farther north in Chile near Arica, the geoglyphs do not specifically represent people and animals, but are instead harder to define. The largest of the figures identified is more than 680 ft (210 m) in length and nearly 200 ft (60 m) in width. An analytical process has tentatively identified the image as a depiction of two felines facing one another.
Determining its meaning is rendered more difficult still by centuries of human disruption to the site, encouraged and facilitated by the rich mineral resources in the area. A road crosses directly through its center and many of the rocks that constitute it have been displaced over the years.
Other geoglyphs found at the site, some of them designed on a similar scale, are even more abstract, imitating the traditional designs of textiles. All of the newly discovered geoglyphs were created through the same painstaking effort of moving stones, a task requiring an untold number of laborers. Ceramics and other artifacts found in the area suggest that these figures may be up to 1,500 years old; roughly contemporary with Peru’s Nazca Lines. They are suspected to be the work of early desert-dwellers who lived in the oases at modern-day Chiu Chiu, Lasana and San Pedro.