Maria and the Stars of Nazca
   María y las Estrellas de Nazca
written by Anita Jepson-Gilbert
translated by Carmen A. Casis

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The Nazca Lines

Maria Reiche

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Maria Reiche (1903--1998)

Maria Reiche was born on May 15, 1903, in Dresden Germany. She graduated from the Dresden Technical University, where she studied mathematics, geography, and foreign languages. In 1932, Maria was a 29-year-old unmarried woman who was not happy with the political mood in Germany, especially with the rise of the Nazi party and a frightening leader named Adolf Hitler. She looked for any possible way to leave her country.

One day Maria found an ad in the newspaper asking for a woman to work as a nanny and a teacher for two children of a German consul living in Cusco, Peru. Soon after she applied for the job, she was hired. So off she sailed, full of hope for a better future. Maria loved the Andean mountains and enjoyed her years working with the two children in the ancient Inca capital of Cusco. While there, however, she had one unfortunate experience. She accidentally stabbed her finger on a cactus, and two days later her finger and even her hand had become very swollen. The doctor said her finger was so infected that he would have to cut it off. Sadly, at the age of 31, Maria lost her finger to gangrene, but she learned to get along fine without it. At this time she had not even heard about the Lines of Nazca.

In 1939, Maria was teaching in Lima, the capital of Peru, and doing scientific translations. By then, Germany was already at war in Europe, so she didn't want to go back to her country. Then Maria heard from an American scientist in Lima about the mysterious Lines and Figures of nazca, which he had recently seen from an airplane. She was interested enough to take a flight herself in a small plane over the nazca desert (pampa). When she saw the figures from the airplane of the spider, the hummingbird and the monkey, she was so fascinated by them that she moved to nazca to study the lines herself.

Maria Reiche made many flights by plane and heliocopter, taking photographs of all the etchings on the pampa. She was especially drawn to the image of the monkey, but when she enlarged the photos she had taken, she was amazed to see that one hand had only four fingers . . . just like her. She asked people who knew the old nazca stories what this might have meant. Finally, she learned that this was a mark of the God of Thunder, which gave special power to communicate with the gods. Had Maria, herself, been marked to uncover the secrets meant only for the gods?

For the next 40 years, Maria lived alone on the pampa in a tiny one-room house, just to study and guard the mysterious Lines of nazca. One of the biggest threats to preserving the Lines was the Pan American Highway that cut across the pampa, slicing the picture of the long, crocodile-looking lizard in half. After Maria published a few articles about the Lines, more and more people started coming to nazca, so they could go out on the pampa to see the figures and lines for themselves. Maria persuaded the government of Peru to make the pampa a restricted area, so no one could walk on the desert except her assistant and herself. She even had a tower built at the edge of the highway, so visitors could go up and view some of the figures from there. When she wasn't measuring lines or drawing maps, she stood guard herself at the top of the tower to make sure no one was walking on the pampa. Many times she would have to call the police in the town of nazca to come and pick up trespassers.

Maria finally grew ill in health and died in Nasca at the age of 95. She was given many honors by the Peruvian government before she died, including honorary citizen of Peru and the title of Great Lady of Nazca. Everyone in the town of Nazca had grown to love and respect this woman who had come from far away to reveal to them the secrets of their ancestors, secrets that had been hidden out in plain sight for two thousand years.

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