Maria Reiche: Lady of the LInes


What is it that prompts some people to devote most of their lives to a particular cause, idea, or mystery? Is it random? A result of the circumstances, time, and culture into which the person is born? Does the individual come into his life with a particular soul mission? Or is sit a combination of these or something else?

History is filled with examples – Gandhi (peace), Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King (equality and freedom for all) Carl Jung (the human psyche) Joseph Campbell (mythology and man) JK Rowling (bringing a certain wizard boy to life), Helen Keller (overcoming disabilities), Amelia Earhart (breaking a glass ceiling in aviation) Rosas Parks (sparked the civil rights movement). You get the idea here. In way one or another, these people made a significant difference in the world.

Now here’s another name for that list: Maria Reiche. To anyone who knows anything about the Nazca lines in Peru  her name is undoubtedly familiar.

In a nutshell, the Nazca lines lie in southern Peru, on an arid plateau that stretches for 50 miles between the towns of Nazca and Palpa. The lines are a series of ancient geoglyphs that scholars believe were created during the Nazca culture between 400 and 650 A.D. Hundreds of the lines are simple geometric shapes. But some of them are intricate designs of birds, fish, jaguars, spiders, monkeys, and llamas. The largest figures are more than 660 feet across.  The best way to see them is in the air. Here’s the hummingbird:

So how does Maria Reiche figure into the strange and intriguing saga of the Nazca lines?

In 1939, Dr. Paul Kosok, a professor of history at Long Island University, traveled to Nazca because he was interested in investigating whether the lines were ancient irrigation canals, his specialty. He’s often credited as the first serious researcher of the lines.   During his research, he concluded that the ground surface was too superficial to have carried water. He also identified the shapes of animals in some of the lines and noticed that some of them converged on the date of the winter solstice. This triggered his research into whether the Nazca lines were related to astronomy.

His research assistant was Maria Reiche, born in Dresden, Germany in 1903. At Dresden Technical University, she studied math, astronomy, geography and foreign languages. She spoke five languages fluently. In 1932, she became a nanny and teacher for a German consul in Cuzco and when the war broke out, was detained in Peru because she was a German citizen. She became Kosok’s assistant shortly after his arrival in Nazca.

Reiche and Kosok began to map and assess the lines for their connection to astronomical events. After Kosok left Peru in 1948, she continued the work on her own. Her background as a mathematician enabled her to analyze how the Nazca could have created such large scale figures and with such sophisticated mathematical precision.

The Nazca lines can best be seen from the air, so Reiche convinced the Peruvian Air Force to help her make aerial photographic surveys. She eventually wrote a book on her theories – The Mystery on the Desert  – that the that the builders of the lines had used them as a sun calendar and an observatory for astronomical cycles.  With the proceeds from her book, she campaigned for the preservation of the Nazca lines. Her quest intensified when a segment of the Pan American Highway cut through one of the figures.

She eventually convinced the Peruvian government to preserve the Nazca area. When she died in 1998, she was buried with official honors, with great pomp and circumstance, in Nazca.

Our friend Kathy Doore, who has written about Markawasi, Peru, has a piece of her website  about Reiche that perhaps best explains what drives people like Reiche.  In 1986, when she was asked what events in her life had prepared her for this lifelong passion, she replied:

“It was a kind of destiny. When I first came to Peru by sea the ship went passing through the center of four consecutive rainbows, four arcs, one inside the other. It was a marvelous spectacle! It must have been some kind of prediction or something. Imagine a boat, a boat driving through the open sea, passing through arching rainbows that touched the waves.  Everything had prepared me for this life. The isolation into which I found myself, my parents putting me aside after my brother was born, my shortsightedness not being detected, all made me an introvert. It made me aloof because I was never the popular type. Now the tourists have made me popular. I was never popular! I sometimes wanted to be, but I could never be. What compelled me on this quest was my curiosity. I wanted to know!”


In late July, a pilot discovered new Nazca lines that include a snake some 200 feet long, a giant bird, and a huge zigzag line. It’s believed the lines were uncovered during a sandstorm. So it seems this area is stll surrendering its secrets.

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16 Responses to Maria Reiche: Lady of the LInes

  1. Ray G says:

    Great synchro. I wish I could see the lines.

  2. lauren raine says:

    Having a driving passion is such a gift, giving meaning to one’s life. thanks for sharing this.

  3. Momwithwings says:

    I’ve always said “one person can make a difference” and boy did she!
    Fascinating story!

  4. DJan says:

    When I was in Peru in 1981, I had never heard of the Nazca Lines and was sorry, later, than I didn’t see them from the air. They are definitely fascinating, and thank heavens for people like Maria Reiche. It would have been terrible if they had been destroyed. I’ll check out these new ones! Thanks! :-)

  5. natalie says:

    I often question the whys of life mission and purpose. I loved your post about the lines.

    Recently, I went to a mediumship seminar in QLD, and the facilitator said that if we are to be healers or mediums of great magnitude, we already have a soul knowing of it somewhere within us as it is stored in our energetic field.

  6. Sheila Joshi says:

    I love stories where a person does a little bit of this and a little bit of that throughout their life, and has some trials and tribulations….and then, later in life, all the pieces come together and you see there was a purpose for everything. It was preparation for their mission. :)

    I also love how new things get uncovered every once in awhile. I’m waiting for more manuscripts to be dug up in the Middle East!

    It’s interesting to hear that there may have been a geoglyph-making culture in the same area even before the Nazca.

  7. I’ve always wanted to see the lines from the air, one day perhaps, you never know in life. It’s a great story of Maria Reiche, and the lines secrets seem to be still hidden.

    • Rob and Trish says:

      As I was editing this point last night, I clicked over to huffington post and there was the story about the new lines!

  8. Shadow says:

    Those lines have always puzzled me. I’ve heard all the theories, but haven’t found one that makes 100% sense…

    As for why people chase what they chase, it has to be passion. Or 4 rainbows…