Saturday, May 26, 2012


Duck-shaped mound, Peru.

Orca Mound with village, Peru.

We are all familiar with the marvelous geoglyphs, the Nazca Lines, in the western desert of Peru. However, a new discovery nearby proves that the Nazca Lines are not the only geoglyphs in that location.

A press release issued on March 29, 2012, by Timothy Wall, of the University of Missouri – Columbia, announced the discovery of animal-shaped effigy mounds near Nazca, in Peru. Writing of the discoveries by University of Missouri Anthropology Professor Emeritus Robert Benfer, Wall stated: “COLUMBIA, Mo. - For more than a century and a half, scientists and tourists have visited massive animal-shaped mounds, such as Serpent Mound in Ohio, created by the indigenous people of North America. But few animal effigy mounds had been found in South America until University of Missouri anthropology professor emeritus Robert Benfer identified numerous earthen animals rising above the coastal plains of Peru, a region already renowned for the Nazca lines, the ruined city of Chan Chan, and other cultural treasures.”

“Benfer identified the mounds, which range from five meters (16.5 feet) to 400 meters (1,312 feet) long in each of the six valleys he surveyed in coastal Peru. The mounds pre-date ceramics and were probably built using woven baskets to carry and pile up rock and soil. “
“Like the Nazca lines, which include a series of giant animal outlines drawn on the ground to the south, the animal mounds were best observed from a higher vantage point. Google Earth images of the mounds revealed the shapes of birds, including a giant condor, a 5,000 year-old orca, a duck, and a caiman/puma monster seen in bone and rock carvings from the area.”

Buzzard-shaped mound, Peru.

Caiman/Puma mound, Peru.

What I find particularly exciting about these animal-shaped effigy mounds is that although Benfer dates them to pre-ceramic periods, their subjects and shapes resemble later portrayals of those creatures on effigy pots, decorated ceramic pots, and even some of the famous Nazca geoglyphs. The imagery persisted over a very long period of time.
“Previously, the only other effigy mounds known from South America were a few sites in the Andes, but Benfer's discoveries may be just the beginning. "In each field season, I have found more giant mounds and more fields of smaller ones. I will go back in June and July confident of identifying more on the ground," Benfer said. Although they appear to be plentiful, researchers overlooked the animal effigies since the first days of scientific archeology in Peru.”

These images still resonate with us today. There is something about the scale of the art at Nazca, the giant geoglyphs on the rocky surface of the desert and now animal-shaped effigy mounds really capture our imaginations. It seems like every time that we relax and assume that all the big discoveries have been made, something else pops up to surprise us.

Contact: Timothy Wall,, 573-882-3346, University of Missouri-Columbia

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