Industry Destroys Part Of The Nazca Lines

Nazca Lines
A limestone quarrying company operating illegally within the bounds of the Nazca Lines has destroyed some of the enigmatic figures.

The archaeology news feed Past Horizons reports that heavy machinery removing limestone from a nearby quarry has damaged 150 meters (492 feet) of lines along with completely destroying a 60-meter (197-foot) trapezoid. So far the more famous animal figures have not been affected.

The Nazca Lines are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of Peru’s most visited attractions. These giant images of people, animals, plants, and geometric shapes were scratched onto the surface of the Peruvian desert by three different cultures from 500 B.C. to 500 A.D. A plane ride above them makes for an awe-inspiring experience. Sadly, tourism is also threatening the Nazca Lines.

Here’s hoping the Peruvian government will start taking notice and preserve one of its greatest national treasures.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

The Travels Of Indiana Jones

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost ArkOne of the greatest characters in movie history makes his way to Blu-Ray Disc today when “Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures” is released for the first time. The new box set lets us join the legendary globetrotting archaeologist as he goes in search of fortune and glory in a number of far-flung locations spread out across the planet.

Watching the Indy movies as a boy, I was mesmerized by all the exotic locations he found himself in and vowed that one day I would follow in his fictional footsteps. I too wanted to stroll through bustling marketplaces, visit ancient ruins and explore remote landscapes. Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to visit some of the same places that are depicted in the films. Luckily, I didn’t have to battle supernatural forces, secret cults or Nazis to do so.

Just exactly where has Indy’s adventures taken him? Here is a list of the key locations that he visited in the course of the four films.

Peru
Our first introduction to Henry Jones, Jr. came at the beginning of 1981′s “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” which opened with the adventurer leading an expedition deep into the Peruvian jungle in search of a lost golden idol. He returned to Peru in 2008 with the release of “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” which gave us a glimpse not only of ancient Inca ruins but also the famous giant geoglyphs known as the Nazca Lines.

You can replicate Indy’s adventures in Peru by visiting Inca ruins yourself. Places like Machu Picchu, Sacsahuaman or Ollantaytambo may no longer be hidden in the dense jungle, but they are still impressive archaeological sites nonetheless. Flights above the Nazca Lines are a popular option too, as those strange glyphs depicting monkeys, humming birds and other animals that can only be seen from the air continue to bewilder even in the 21st century. Of course, the Amazon Rainforest is an amazing destination in its own right and Peru offers some unique ways to experience that remote and iconic place too.Ama Dablam in NepalNepal
Indy’s stay in the Himalayan country of Nepal was a brief one. He only stopped by long enough to pick up his erstwhile partner Marion Ravenwood while searching for the Lost Ark. But your visit shouldn’t be as short, as the country has some of the best hiking in the world and Kathmandu is one of the most unusual and colorful cities you’ll ever see. Make the hike to Everest Base Camp, trek the Annapurna Circuit or visit the famous Chitwan National Park, which is home to wild tigers, elephants and rhinos. Adventure is around every corner in Nepal.

Egypt
Our intrepid hero made his way to Egypt in search of the fabled Lost Ark of the Covenant but there is still plenty of history for us to discover there as well. The Great Pyramids at Giza, the Sphynx and the Temple of Hatshepsut can still inspire awe, while a visit to the legendary Valley of the Kings and Queens is akin to stepping 5000 years into the past. Watch the Egyptian countryside drift by on a classic Nile cruise and drop by Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo to check out the more than 120,000 items that are on display there. That’s more artifacts than even Indy himself could hope to collect.

China
In his second big screen adventure, 1984′s “Temple of Doom,” our good Dr. Jones began his escapades in Shanghai, China, where he had a somewhat less than successful encounter with Chinese mobsters. Your visit to that ultra-modern and bustling city doesn’t have to be quite so chaotic, however. Start with a visit to the Shanghai Museum, which is one of the best in the entire country, before heading over to Dongtai Road to search for hidden treasures of your own in the quaint antique shops. Discover a slice of serenity while escaping the busy city life in Yu Yuan Garden, then stroll the Bund, Shanghai’s famous waterfront district along the Huangpu River.

India
Leaving China behind, Indy found his next adventure in a remote region of India where he managed to not only recover the legendary lost Sankara stones, but also free a group of children enslaved to an evil Thugee cult. Rich in history and culture, India is a country that has something for nearly every kind of traveler. The northern region is bounded by the high Himalaya, making it a great destination for trekkers and backpackers, while the southern coastlines feature breathtaking beaches along the Indian Ocean. While there, you can learn the secrets of yoga from a master, visit ancient Hindu temples, explore national parks inhabited by tigers and elephants and so much more. Don’t forget to drop by the famous Taj Mahal either. It may seem like a tourist cliche, but some places are considered classics for good reason.

The Lost City of Petra in JordanJordan
In “The Last Crusade,” which was released in 1989, Indiana Jones and his father went in search of the Holy Grail, ultimately discovering it inside the famous archaeological site of Petra, located in Jordan. You won’t find a single trace of the Holy Grail anywhere near Petra (believe me, I looked!) but the city remains an amazing destination. History buffs will find it more than lives up to the hype, as do the amazing Roman ruins of Jerash in the northern part of the country. Jordan’s capital Amman is a vibrant, energetic city that has much to offer in terms of culture and nightlife while the Wadi Rum desert and Dana Nature Reserve are the perfect escapes for those looking to shed the trappings of modern culture instead. Complete your visit with a relaxing float in the Dead Sea, located not far from some of the most important religious sites to both Islam and Christianity.

Other Destinations
These are just a sampling of some of the exotic locations that Indiana Jones visited throughout the course of the films. He also traveled to Arches National Park in Utah, as well as Berlin and Venice in “Last Crusade” and dropped by a nuclear testing facility in the Nevada desert in “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” In between his thrilling adventures, Indy also managed to find time to teach archaeology at Marshall College, located in Bedford, Connecticut. The college may be fictional, but you can still stroll its hallowed grounds as Yale University served as the backdrop.

While “Crystal Skull” wasn’t as well received by critics and fans as the previous films in the series, rumors persist of a potential fifth Indiana Jones movie. If so, it’ll be interesting to see where Indy ends up next and what new destinations he’ll add to his passport in the process.

Peru’s Mysterious Animal-Shaped Mounds

Peru, effigy mound
It’s always an odd experience to see a familiar name in the news. Dr. Robert Benfer was a professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia when I was getting my master’s in archaeology. I was studying the early medieval Europe while he taught about prehistoric Peru, so our paths didn’t cross much, but I did go to some of his lectures. I especially remember his skewering of the controversial book “The Bell Curve” for its shoddy use of statistics.

Dr. Benfer has announced that he has discovered several effigy mounds in Peru — artificial hills in the shapes of birds, including a giant condor, a 5,000-year-old orca, a duck and a caiman/puma monster.

“The mounds will draw tourists, one day,” Benfer said in a university press release. “Some of them are more than 4,000 years old. Compare that to the effigy mounds of North America, which date to between 400 and 1200 A.D. The oldest Peruvian mounds were being built at the same time as the pyramids in Egypt.”

An interesting aspect of this discovery is that it shows how science works, and occasionally doesn’t work. Because it was thought there were no effigy mounds in Peru, nobody looked for them. Benfer himself admits to not seeing one that was right in front of him. Once he noticed several animal-like patterns on Google Earth, however, he rethought his assumptions. He set out to survey six valleys and found effigy mounds in all of them. Another old theory is discarded in the face of new evidence.

Some of the mounds are more than 1,000 feet long and are only clearly visible from above, much like Peru’s famous Nazca Lines. Dr. Benfer suggests they may represent the Andean zodiac. Indeed, many appear to have astronomical alignments. A giant condor’s eye, for example, lines up with the Milky Way when observed from a nearby temple.

Dr. Benfer’s discovery has been published in the journal Antiquity and he is heading back to Peru this summer to look for more effigy mounds.

Photo courtesy Dr. Robert Benfer. More photos, including Google Earth images, can be seen here.

Nazca lines face threats from elements, negligence

Nazca lines
The Nazca lines are some of the world’s most mysterious ancient monuments. Giant images of people, animals, plants, and geometric shapes scratched onto the surface of the Peruvian desert by three different cultures from 500 BC to 500 AD, they’ve made generations of researchers scratch their heads over their purpose and meaning.

Now it turns out these unique figures aren’t so unique after all. They’re among the many ancient wonders under threat from the natural and man-made causes. The UNESCO World Heritage Site has been listed in the World Monuments Fund’s 2012 Watch because of threats from flooding and tourism. As you can see from these pictures, roads actually cut through some of the images.

Popular Archaeology has reported that trash has accumulated at the site and that tourism facilities are crowding the area. Some mudslides and flooding nearby didn’t seriously hurt the designs, but serve as a warning of what could happen. The regional government is working on a plan to save the situation. The region makes a good deal of money from tourism, so they have every reason to preserve these enigmatic figures for the next generation.Nazca linesSadly, there’s another threat to the Nazca lines–the threat of ignorance. Most of what you see about the lines in the media is New Age pseudoarchaeology about Atlantis and aliens. I’ve written before about how the ancient astronaut theory is racist, being implicitly based on the assumption that cultures with dark skin couldn’t possibly have scratched out designs in the dirt without help from beings from another planet.

Yes, they’re so big they can only be seen from the air, but all you have to do is make a smaller drawing you can see easily and then expand the dimensions to create your final product. There’s also a theory that the builders had hot air balloons, although there is no direct evidence of this. There’s no direct evidence that they were UFO runways either, like Erich von Däniken would have us believe. While I’m not sure I buy the balloon theory, that’s no reason to immediately jump to the least plausible explanation.

[Condor image courtesy Wikimedia Commons. Monkey image courtesy Maria Reiche]