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I remember being introduced to the Nasca lines by Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, Leonard Nimoy.

He narrated the awesomely schlocky 1970s TV documentary show “In Search Of…” – in this episode, In Search of Ancient Aviators, Nimoy solemnly intones the possibility of a lost technology of flight among ancient peoples – as the Nasca lines can only fully be seen from the air (and in fact weren’t rediscovered until the 1930s when modern aircraft overflew the region).  The show goes on to explore the extraterrestrial hypothesis – the Erich von Däniken, Chariots of the Gods explanation – that the lines were built as “landing strips” for aliens.

Of course no modern-day archaeologists subscribe to these alternate theories – though they have captured the popular imagination enough to have become bound up with the Nasca Lines – so much so, that the last Indiana Jones film featured the Lines prominently with –spoiler alert – the intrepid Dr. Jones learning of an extraterrestrial connection.

One adventurer and amateur theorist who took the “lost technology” theory to heart was Jim Woodman.  He believed the ancient Nasca people of Peru had the available technology to build hot-air balloons from which they could see and construct the lines.  While his theory was roundly dismissed, he did set out to prove it was possible by building a hot-air balloon from textiles and materials available to the Nasca people approximately 2000 years ago. On November 28th, 1975, he successfully launched his balloon, named Condor 1, over the Nasca plains, getting a good look at the runway like strips formed by the lines during his ascent.

In our documentary, Nasca Lines: Buried Secrets, 21st century technology is used to create a three dimensional map of the lines on the Nasca plains – part of the ongoing studies by Swiss archaeologist Dr. Markus Reindal.  The documentary’s producer, writer and director Philip Day describes first seeing this 3D reconstruction in doing research for the show:

The resulting 3D ‘map’ they showed me was still in a primitive form, but even though the images were grainy black and white, it was truly astounding. As I flew through a vast desert region for the first time it gave me a real sense of how the Nasca Lines existed in the vast, arid landscape. Until then, I, like many others, had assumed that the Lines could only be viewed from the air. Not true! It was clear from the images that the Lines could be seen from high vantage
points on surrounding mountains.

So, it would seem aliens and ancient aviators weren’t needed to see the Nasca Lines from the air – ancient mountain climbers may have been enough.

For more of Day’s behind the scenes thoughts, you can read his description of making the show.

Nasca Lines: Buried Secrets
encores on the National Geographic Channel on Feb. 25 at 10P et/pt.