New insights into Peru’s mysterious Nazca geoglyphs suggest that the lines may have once been a labyrinth with a spiritual purpose. Two scientists have decided to use a low-tech method for exploring these ancient drawings. They walked them.

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Created sometime between 200 B.C. and A.D. 500, the giant ground drawings of Ancient Nasca, Peru, comprise several hundred line figures, some geometric shapes along with a variety of animal representations that altogether cover an area of nearly 500 square kilometers (193 square miles). The lines were made by removing the Nazca desert surface such that the lighter earth below is revealed.

The meaning and purpose of the lines continue to puzzle archaeologists. Some have suggested that they were built as an alien landing strip, a primitive sun calendar or an irrigation system.

“To appreciate what they might have meant to ordinary people, then you have to walk them,” said Thimothy Ingold, a cultural anthropologist at the University of Aberdeen. “People were not looking at this stuff from the air, they were looking at stuff from the ground level,” he added.

Starting in 2007, archaeologists Clive Ruggles from the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom and his Aberdeen colleague Nicholas Saunders spent 150 days walking 932 miles (1.500 kilometers) of the ancient carvings. They found the newly uncovered geoglyph was a single meandering line with disorienting turns and confusing patterns. Since the path was in pristine condition, the scientists concluded that it was rarely, if ever, used.

Many ancient labyrinths have proven to have a predominantly spiritual purpose, which might be the case with the Nazca geoglyphs. One possibility is that the paths weren’t walked at all, but served as passages of gods and spirits, Ruggles suggests.

Via MSNBC News