Last week, archaeologists in Peru discovered a faded carving on the desert hillside. After a thorough cleaning, the figure, which had previously been barely visible, revealed itself to be a 120-foot-long cat.
The feline carving is what’s known as a geoglyph, and it is the latest discovery among the group of drawings in in the Nazca Desert that are often called the Nazca Lines. Many of them were created around 2,000 years ago. According to Peru’s Ministry of Culture, the cat etching dates to 200 B.C.E.–100 B.C.E., making it the oldest known geoglyph unearthed at Nazca.
“The discovery shows, once again, the rich and varied cultural legacy of this site,” the ministry said in a statement.
The monumental depressions are dispersed over roughly 600 square miles of desert floor about 250 miles from Lima, the Peruvian capital. They site was discovered in the early 19th century by a Peruvian aerial surveyor who spotted mysterious markings on the Nazca plains that resembled animals. Images of a hummingbird, orca, and monkey were unearthed soon after. In 1994, UNESCO designated the Lines and Geoglyphs of Nasca and Palpa, a World Heritage Site site “that bears witness to the culture and magical-religious tradition and beliefs.”
The designs were believed to have been created when ancient Peruvians scraped off a dark and rocky layer of earth, which contrasts with lighter-colored sand underneath. In recent years, advances in drone technology, artificial intelligence, and satellite photography have led archaeologists to discover drawings with with increasing frequency. In 2019, a team of Japanese researchers from Yamagata University unearthed more than 140 geoglyphs at Nazca, including images of lamas, a two-headed snake, birds, and alpacas.
“It’s quite striking that we’re still finding new figures, but we also know that there are more to be found,” Johny Isla, director of the Nazca Lines conservation mission at the Ministry of Culture, told Euronews. He added, “In fact, there are new ones and we will continue to find more.”