A feline find

1 min read
A large cat-shaped geoglyph on a rocky hillside
[Image: Johny Isla – Ministry of Culture]

A geoglyph has been discovered on a hillside in the Nazca desert of Peru during the emergency project ‘Cleaning, Conservation and Restoration of the Geoglyphs of the Mirador Natural, Nazca’. Researchers were modifying a viewpoint in January 2020 when they observed lines that did not appear to be natural on a nearby slope. After securing drone images and processing these photos, they were able to identify a feline figure, which was cleaned and conserved at the end of the project in November.

The geoglyph is on a side of the slope that is not often seen by visitors, and the lines had been both eroded and obscured by falling stones over the years, explaining how the figure escaped notice for so long. On the strength of stylistic comparisons, researchers have dated the feline to around 200 BC. This makes it older than the famous Nazca Lines, but contemporary with more than 50 figurative geoglyphs in nearby Palpa and other areas on the south coast of Peru (see CWA 95).

It is thought that a geoglyph of this style and size could have been created in ten days by three or four people, but the task would have required plenty of patience. The feline subject is most likely a Pampas cat, a species that is still common in the region. Similar to a large cat, with a pronounced tail, the Pampas cat is known locally as the Andean cat or spotted cat. They are often depicted in material culture from the Paracas culture (800-1 BC) and are thought to have played a part in their religious cosmology, representing a deity with dominion over the earth; the killer whale had dominion over water, and the condor over air. It is hoped that future research will shed more light on the purpose and meaning of this geoglyph, as well as uncovering more new examples in the area.

This article appeared in issue 105 of Current World ArchaeologyClick here for more information about subscribing to the magazine.

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