Maria Reiche – the eccentric “governess” of the mysterious Nazca Lines – is honoured in today’s Google Doodle
From training as a mathematician in Germany to sleeping on rooftops in Peru, the eccentric life of the so-called Lady of the Lines, Maria Reiche, has been honoured in today’s Google Doodle.
On what would have been her 115th birthday, Google has designed an animated Doodle showing Maria Reiche sat on a stepladder with a pair of binoculars in front of the Google logo, written in the form of the mysterious lines in the Nazca desert. After a chance meeting in a coffee shop, Maria Reiche devoted her life to studying – and protecting – the Nazca Lines, armed with just a broom.
Maria Reiche Grosse-Neumann studied maths in Dresden before emigrating to the south of Peru to work as a governess in the 1930s. She began teaching German in 1934 and one of her clients, an American called Amy Meredith, introduced her to fellow American geographer Paul Kosok.
After Peruvian archaeologist Toribio Maj’ia Xesspe discovered traces of long straight lines drawn in the desert around Nazca, Kosok captured them from the air and showed that many took the form of animals (spiders, monkeys and birds) or shapes, suggesting they were man-made.
Know as geoglyphs, these elaborate line drawings cover vast regions between the towns of Palpa and Nazca and were made by removing the red pebbles that cover the Nazca desert to create trenches as deep as 15cm (six inches) that exposed the lighter coloured sand beneath the surface.
The Nazca people lived from 200 to 700 CE and it is thought the designs were made to converge with the winter solstice. By studying their angles and positions, Maria Reiche and Kosok proposed the designs were “markers on the horizon to show where the sun and other celestial bodies rose.” In summary, the people who made them, used them as a form of an astronomical calendar.
As the Google Doodle blog post explains: “Using a measuring tape, sextant, and compass, Maria Reiche measured almost 1,000 lines, investigating their astronomical orientation.”
Maria Reiche was said to be have been so devoted to protecting the Nazca Lines, she would physically shield the figures from visitors and cars, armed with only a broom. As a result, she became known as the “woman who swept the desert”, and later the “Lady of the Lines.”
The mystery of these Lines have been studied ever since. In August 2014, a sandstorm exposed a series of previously unseen geoglyphs on the site, including what appears to be a 196ft-long (60 metre) snake, a type of camelid – such as a llama – above an unidentified bird. In April, archaeologists discovered a further 50.
Since Maria Reiche’s work, researchers have concluded that the Nazca Lines served a more ceremonial purpose than had first been proposed. One theory is that the geoglyphs are connected in some way to water.
For example, a triangular geoglyph runs along the water veins inside the mountain, while a second is linked to local legend, which states that when the condor flies over the mountain, “great rains follow”. Similarly, the “hummingbird” geoglyph only appears in the summer following heavy rainfall. In particular, the people of the time may have used the drawings to appeal to the gods to bring rain.
In 1992, Maria Reiche was granted Peruvian citizenship, and the Nazca airport is named after her. In 1995, UNESCO declared the Nazca Lines a World Heritage Site.
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