Ancient Runways and Flying Fish: Did the Nazca Culture Take Flight?

Kane Khanh | Archeaology
February 2, 2024

Nazca lines.

The Nazca lines are still mysterious even after decades of being carefully studied. Archaeologists believe they know how they were made, but why they were made remains uncertain. Recently, researchers have suggested that the lines were related to fertility rituals involving the availability of water, but there are some people who still see something different in lines that are very long and straight. Some alternative thinkers argue that the straighter lines represent runways for ancient airports. Although it is possible that this is the case, the evidence found to support this position is insufficient so far.

Were the Nazca Lines Airports for Ancient Aliens?

The Nazca designs consist of a variety of figures. Some are recognizable as animals, such as spiders and monkeys, while others are more abstract. There is also a subset of figures that consist simply of straight lines. Some of them are built at the tops of hills and appear to stop at the edges of cliffs. Unlike the other designs that are clearly figural, these resemble runways in their length and straightness. This has led some fringe theorists to suggest that these lines were ancient air strips or airports. Some people even suggest that the lines made on hills were specifically created for launching gliders.

Ancient Runways and Flying Fish: Did the Nazca Culture Take Flight?

Nazca Lines, Nazca, Peru. (Diego Delso/CC BY SA)

There are two main groups which say that these particular Nazca lines represent runways – those who believe that the Nazca geoglyphs were made by visiting extraterrestrials and those who believe that the Nazca people had flight technology and used it to make the lines. Proponents of both views point to the Tolima artifacts: gold figurines that sometimes resemble jet planes, as further evidence that ancient South Americans either possessed flight technology themselves or encountered flight technology produced by someone else, such as ancient aliens.

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Ancient Runways and Flying Fish: Did the Nazca Culture Take Flight?

Aerial view of the “Owlman” aka “Astronaut”, the most enigmatic geoglyph of the Nazca Lines in the Nazca Desert in southern Peru. (Diego Delso/CC BY SA)

The main problem with the extraterrestrial explanation is that there is no other clear evidence that suggests alien visitation. There is no evidence of crashed spaceships, spacecraft parts, rare metal alloys not normally found on earth, or anything else that could not have come from this planet –  no indisputable evidence at least. Furthermore, analysis of the lines shows they were made by delicately removing topsoil to create these designs. A spaceship landing would probably have disrupted this fragile configuration.

There is no evidence of parts of the lines being disrupted because of exhaust from landing spacecraft and you would expect such evidence to remain since the desert is not very windy. This is, in fact, why the Nazca lines have not been obscured by windblown material. Based on these facts, it is unlikely that extraterrestrials made any of the Nazca lines, including the alleged runways.

Ancient Runways and Flying Fish: Did the Nazca Culture Take Flight?

Artist’s impression of UFOs over a desert. (Public Domain)

Runways for Forgotten Nazca Aircraft?

The Nazca lines would not have been hard for the Nazca people to make and experimental archaeology has shown that a team of people can make such lines within a few hours to a few days using only the technological means known to have been available to the ancient Nazca through archaeological evidence. As a result, Occam’s razor is friendlier to the idea that the Nazca culture made the lines – we have evidence that they lived in the area at the time and could have constructed the lines – whereas we don’t have evidence that extraterrestrials were ever present.

Since it is most likely the Nazca people themselves made all the lines, some fringe theorists have logically concluded that the Nazca civilization must have had flight and other advanced technology because of the supposed runways. Proponents of this view point to Nazca geoglyphs that look vaguely mechanical, resembling windmills and hooks, to bolster their case.

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Although this hypothesis is probably more likely, there are still problems with it. We must remember that just because a design looks one way to us, doesn’t mean that it looked that way to the Nazca. For example, they may have been using a particular style of art to represent natural features such as plants and animals that just by coincidence causes them to resemble machines to us since we live in the age of machines.

Ancient Runways and Flying Fish: Did the Nazca Culture Take Flight?

The Nazca spider. (Public Domain)

Another example of this might be the nicknames archaeologists will give to artifacts that they do not recognize. Early hominids used what archaeologists call a “hand axe” even though, in reality, it was probably not used as a hand axe. It just happens to resemble an object in our culture that didn’t exist in the culture of Homo Ergaster which originally produced the “hand axe.” This could be the same with the Nazca designs.

One of these mechanical looking geoglyphs resembles a windmill. Experts have identified it as a flower, but some fringe thinkers insist that the Nazca would have done a better job at depicting a flower. If this design is compared to others that are more clearly flowers, however, it is very similar to some of the flowers. Therefore, it could just be that there was a variety of representations of a flower in the Nazca culture, some more closely resembling a flower as we see it today and others more abstract.

Ancient Runways and Flying Fish: Did the Nazca Culture Take Flight?

Nazca ‘flower’ geoglyph. (wikimapia)

It should also be noted that straight lines are very common and not all straight paths made in history have been runways. As a result, the fact that they are long and straight does not mean that these lines are runways. Thus, both the apparent runways and the geoglyphs supposedly representing mechanical devices are, by themselves, too ambiguous to be used as evidence that the Nazca were more advanced than would be expected at the time.

The Question of the Quimbaya Artifacts

We currently do not have any evidence of airplanes or flying machines built by the Nazca, only these dubious lines and symbols that some modern people think look mechanical or resemble modern features such as runways. There is no solid evidence for crashed airplanes or airplane parts. There is also no evidence for buildings that may have served as hangers or airports nearby the supposed runways. Absence of evidence may not be evidence of absence, but it is not evidence either.

Proponents of this theory also point to the Tolima or Quimbaya artifacts. The Quimbaya culture made many gold artifacts representing frogs, birds, insects, fish, and other animals. A few of them have fins and delta-shaped wings – which have led some people to suggest that these particular figures are ancient depictions of airplanes.

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Ancient Runways and Flying Fish: Did the Nazca Culture Take Flight?

Representation of a Quimbaya ‘airplane.’ (abstruze)

The problem is that even the figures that resemble airplanes basically look like stylized versions of animal figurines. There is no sharp distinction between the ones that resemble airplanes and ones that are clearly animals. It may just be that some art styles of the Quimbaya happened to produce things that resemble items in our modern culture rather than them being an actual depiction of ancient flying machines.

It is true that some people have created gliders based on the Tolima artifacts which successfully flew, but the scaled-up versions of the artifacts had to be significantly modified in order to fly –  which makes it less likely that the original artifacts represent models of actual aircraft.

Attempts have been made to create flying machines throughout history before the Wright brothers or the first hot air balloon flight in 1783. Particularly well-known stories are from ancient China, the Islamic world, and Medieval Europe. However, there doesn’t appear to be evidence of widespread flight before the 18th century. It may have happened, but it will require more evidence than ambiguous geoglyphs and figurines that resemble modern technological devices or runways for airplanes. What will confirm ancient human flight would be evidence of actual aircraft.

Top Image: Nazca lines. Source: flyarik

By Caleb Strom