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Exotic migratory birds identified in Peru’s mysterious Nazca lines © Getty Images

Exotic migratory birds identified in Peru’s mysterious Nasca lines

Published: 02nd July, 2019 at 00:00
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A hermit thrush, a guano bird and a pelican all feature in the Peruvian carvings.

The mysterious lines of Nasca and Palpa are a series of gigantic ‘geoglyphs’ carved into an area of about 450 square kilometres about 400 kilometres south of Lima, Peru. They were carved into the ground between 400 B.C.E and 1000 C.E. by pre-Inca people, and include lines, geometric designs, and depictions of animals and plants. Most of them are so large that they can only be fully appreciated from the air. Exactly what they represent has long been speculated, but now a study of more than 2,000 of the carvings carried out by Japanese ornithologists has identified several of the birds.


They have identified a hermit thrush, a guano bird and a pelican – all birds not found in parts of the country where the drawings are found.

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Other drawings previously thought to represent condors or flamingos were deemed not to have the essential characteristics to validate such identifications.

“Until now, the birds in these drawings have been identified based on general impressions or a few morphological traits present in each figure. We closely noted the shapes and relative sizes of the birds' beaks, heads, necks, bodies, wings, tails and feet and compared them with those of modern birds in Peru,” said Masaki Eda.

“The Nasca people who drew the images could have seen pelicans while food-gathering on the coast. Our findings show that they drew exotic birds, not local birds, and this could be a clue as to why they drew them in the first place.”

Further comparisons with birds drawn around the same time on pottery and of bird remains excavated from Nasca ruins could help identify more of the birds depicted in the geoglyphs, the researchers say.


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Jason Goodyer
Jason GoodyerCommissioning editor, BBC Science Focus

Jason is the commissioning editor for BBC Science Focus. He holds an MSc in physics and was named Section Editor of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors in 2019. He has been reporting on science and technology for more than a decade. During this time, he's walked the tunnels of the Large Hadron Collider, watched Stephen Hawking deliver his Reith Lecture on Black Holes and reported on everything from simulation universes to dancing cockatoos. He looks after the magazine’s and website’s news sections and makes regular appearances on the Instant Genius Podcast.


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