Humans

Scientists uncover gorgeous 2,000-year-old etching of a giant cat in Nazca desert

A cat lies in the Sun in Peru, its ears up and alert, its belly exposed, and tail stretched out.

The cat is 37 metres (120 feet) long, and around 2,000 years old. It’s a geoglyph recently discovered in the famous Nazca desert in Peru.

After authorities began improving access to a lookout point called the Mirador Natural, a research team noticed a barely visible cat on a hillside.

“It’s quite striking that we’re still finding new figures, but we also know that there are more to be found,” Johnny Isla, Peru’s chief archaeologist for the Nazca lines, told the Spanish news agency EFE.

The Nazca lines are huge drawings in the soil of the Nazca desert, mostly created by the Nazca culture between 500 BCE and 500 CE.

Underneath the reddish-brown pebbles of the desert is a yellow grey soil; when the top layer is removed, it exposes a lighter colour underneath. There’s not much rain, wind, or erosion in the region, so the human-made formations could stay in relatively good nick for thousands of years.

The sub-layer of soil also contains high amounts of lime, which hardens with exposure to moisture (such as from morning mist) and helps keep the lines safe from erosion for thousands of years.

Some of the Nazca lines are geometric shapes, some are simple lines, and some are combined into elaborate depictions of animals and objects, often stretching several metres and best seen from afar or from the skies above.

nazca spiderbodyThe famous Nazca spider. (CanY71/iStock)

This particular geoglyph of a cat has been dated to between 200-100 BCE, meaning it’s part of the Late Paracas period. As the Nazca culture began in around 100 BCE, this could mean that the older Paracas culture may be responsible for creating the cat.

It also makes the cat older than any of the other geoglyphs found in the area.

“The discovery shows, once again, the rich and varied cultural legacy of this site,” the ministry said in a statement.

Although we’re not sure about why these huge symbols were etched into the desert, recent studies have given us some clue – suggesting that they may have served as travel markers, or to be seen by deities in the sky.

2730076098 490a84672e cCondor Nazca line. (Paul Williams/Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

In recent years with new technological tools, scientists have been able to find many more of these geoglyphs, but we’ve also seen some of the lines damaged by everything from truck drivers to Greenpeace.

The cat has avoided a similar fate being found when it did, as the ministry explains it “was about to disappear because it’s situated on quite a steep slope that’s prone to the effects of natural erosion”.

Now it’s been carefully cleaned up, and is looking as good as new (we assume). We’re glad this ancient cat gets to enjoy the light of the Sun once more.

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