Maria Reiche – A Nazca Lines Enthusiast!

Maria Reiche

Maria Reiche was a German-born Peruvian Mathematician and more importantly, an enthusiastic archaeologist. Born in 1903, she was fascinated by the mysterious Nazca Lines and made it her life’s work to investigate them in the hope of learning all she could about the famous geoglyphs. Maria Reiche had a significant part to play in the creation of a National Heritage Site at the Nazca lines. The Nazca people valued her archaeology work so much that they actually named the Nazca airport in her honor. She really was an amazing person!

The Early Life of Maria Reiche

The famous archaeologist was born on the 15th of May 115 years ago in Dresden, Germany, 1903. From very early on, Maria’s academic ability became obvious, and she excelled in school. Once she had completed high school, Maria was offered a place at the prestigious Dresden Technical University where she studied Mathematics, Astronomy, Geography, and Foreign Languages, showing off her talents as an academic for all to see. Maria Reiche actually spoke a total of 5 different languages!

In 1932, the young German moved to Cusco, Peru where she began working as a nanny and a governess for the children of the German Consul. In 1934, misfortune struck when she lost a finger to gangrene resulting from a cut she inflicted on herself with a cactus. Maria later decided to move to the Peruvian capital of Lima in 1939 where she worked as a teacher and a translator. The capital was where she stayed during the second world war, while her home country became the antagonists in a devastating war that would desolate much of Europe and beyond.

Maria Reiche: A Nazca Lines Enthusiast

In 1940, Maria Reiche became an assistant to a successful American historian Paul Kosok, from Long Island University in Brooklyn, New York. The two of them worked together as partners investigating the strange lines that Maria had previously seen scattered throughout the Nazca desert. Professor Kosok began to realize that some of the carvings met at the point of the of the southern hemisphere winter solstice. This fascinating discovery led the two to investigate the possible significance of the other lines to astronomical events, with Reiche eventually discovering that there were actually a set of lines converging at the point of the summer solstice too, leading the two investigators to believe that these strange, yet incredible carvings on the surface of the Nazca desert were, in fact, some sort of large-scale celestial calendar!

This fascinating discovery led the two to commence mapping of the geoglyphs to discover all the shapes and images hidden in the desert surface. After a first attempt at mapping the carvings, the two discovered a total of 18 figures of birds and other animals carved into the surface. In 1948, Kosok left the project but Maria Reiche was unwavering and continued to investigate and map the work of the Nazca people many years before. Through her knowledge of Mathematics, Maria Reiche concluded that the tools used by the Nazcas must have been extremely precise, as the lines and angles of the figures on the desert surface were extremely accurate and exact, again proving the magnitude of the Nazcan’s achievements in creating these beautiful masterpieces in the heart of the desert. Similar the Egyptian and Greek empires, the Nazcan people had managed to create extremely precise works of art that even today would be challenging to replicate, showing the success of these ancient civilizations!

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Maria Reiche continued her work from her home in the Nazca desert, where she managed to finally convince the Peruvian Air Force to aid her in creating aerial images of the mysterious carvings. With their help, in 1949 she published her theories on the Nazca Lines in her book The Mystery on the Desert. Her theories revolved around the concept of the carvings representing constellations and other astronomical events, such as the large carving of the monkey representing the constellation Ursa Major. Although her theories received mixed responses and it is now widely believed that the lines actually played a part in religious ceremonies for the calling of water from the gods, her work alongside Professor Kosok played a fundamental part in the understanding we now have of these mysterious carvings, that would not have been possible without her long-lasting dedication to the investigation.

The Later Life of Maria Reiche

Maria Reiche remained an important advocate of the importance of the Nazca Lines and their significance in Latin American history. She remained in her home in the Nazca Desert where she made use of the profits from her work to conserve the important site. She made sure to protect the fantastic carvings from the ever-growing traffic volumes encroaching on the area after one of the famous figures was cut during the construction of the Pan American Highway. She paid for private security to protect the area and managed to convince the Government to implement restrictions on the volumes of traffic and tourists permitted in the area, meaning the incredible landmarks would be preserved forever more.

Maria Reiche’s dedication the Nazca Lines didn’t falter as she grew older. Despite struggling with her health, Ms. Reiche was heavily involved in the campaign to make the Nazca Lines a World Heritage Site, which was finally achieved in 1994 thanks to her valiant efforts. Maria Reiche had many health issues in her later life, being wheelchair bound, enduring many skin issue and also fighting with Parkinson’s disease. She eventually passed away in 1998 after a battle with ovarian cancer. Maria Reiche dedicated her life to the Nazca Lines and is undoubtedly the reason we know so much about the incredible carvings in the depth of the desert today. Currently, there have been a total of 300 geometric figures carved into the desert’s surface, 70 of which form accurate drawings of plants and animals, famous to many archaeologists today. Without her, it is likely that the incredible Nazca Lines Tours available today wouldn’t be possible, so for that, we are all eternally grateful to Maria Reiche and the incredible work that she did to make the Nazca lines one of the most sought-after destinations in both Peru and South America!

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