Earth Drawings

Also called geoglyphics, earth drawings are pictures, usually vast in size, that have been scraped into the earth by unknown artists. Such drawings, which depict human figures or animals, appear in places as varied as the mesas of the American Southwest, the hillsides of southwestern England, and the plateaus of Peru. The most mysterious earth drawings are those that cannot be viewed in their entirety except from an aeroplane. This has led many people to wonder whether they were meant to be viewed by extraterrestrials in spacecraft rather than by humans on the ground.

Nazca Lines

Perhaps the most widely known earth drawings are those found in a desert in southern Peru. The ground in this area is crisscrossed with lines now known as Nazca lines, so named because many scholars believe them to be the creation of the Nazca, a people who lived in southern Peru between 600 and 200 B.C. Historian Paul Kosok, who in 1941 was one of the first Westerners to see the Nazca lines, noticed that on the day of the winter solstice, the sun set over the end of one of the longest of these lines. Kosok concluded, therefore, that their purpose was to keep track of the movements of celestial bodies. When he publicized his theory, other scholars visited the area to look at the lines for themselves. They discovered that certain lines, when viewed from an aeroplane, could be seen to be part of intricate geometric patterns, while others were part of dozens of drawings that depicted a variety of figures, including a man with unusually large eyes, a giant spider, a lizard, a monkey, and eighteen birds of various kinds. (In fact, the line that Kosok discovered marked the winter solstice was the 120-foot-long [36.6m] beak of a hummingbird.) The smallest of these drawings is 27 feet (8.2m) long, the largest is more than 450 feet (137.2m) long, and together they cover some 500 square miles (1295 sq. km.) on an arid plateau now known as the Nazca plateau. It is one of the driest and least windy places on Earth, which means that the drawings have not been subjected to much erosion.

Another site that contains earth drawings is the Mojave Desert near Blythe, California. Pilot Jerry Phillips, a colonel with the U.S. Army Air Service, was the first to spot these drawings. While flying over the region in 1923 he saw two giant figures, one of a human and the other of a strange, long-tailed animal. The media nicknamed the man the Blythe Giant, and scientists concluded that the Mojave Indians who once lived in the region had created the figures. Subsequent visitors to the desert eventually discovered more than two hundred additional earth drawings of humans and animals as well as abstract symbols and lines, the oldest dating to about 3000 B.C. In some cases, the lines were made by aligning rocks found on the surface rather than by scratching into the ground.

In England, ancient earth drawings were made by cutting into the soil of hillsides. These figures primarily represent men and horses, and scholars suspect that they were made by the ancient Celts. Two of the most famous such drawings are the White Horse of Uffington and the Cerne Giant. The latter is the 180-foot-tall (54.9m) outline of a club-brandishing man, cut into a hillside near Dorchester, England. The White Horse, which is 365 feet (111.3m) long, is the oldest known earth drawing in England, possibly dating from 100 B.C. Cut into the ridge of a 500- foot (150m) hill near the village of Uffington, its white colour comes from the rock revealed by the scraping. Some scholars have suggested that the image was actually intended to be a dragon, but that its features were altered by erosion.

Earth drawings discovered in the Ohio River Valley and other parts of the middle and southern United States were made in a different manner from those in England. Instead of cutting or scratching figures into the soil, the artists built large mounds of dirt that depicted various animals. For example, a mound roughly 1,000 feet (305m) long near Peebles, Ohio, forms a giant undulating snake holding a sphere in its mouth. According to one Native American legend, the mound was created to commemorate a lunar eclipse, with the idea being that the eclipse was caused by a snake of the sky trying to swallow the moon.

Competing Theories

People disagree on exactly why earth drawings were made. Among believers in extraterrestrials, the common view is that the drawings were either created under the direction of aliens or created to honour aliens. In either case, they say that the reason the images can only be seen from high above the ground is because they were meant to be viewed from the height of a hovering alien spacecraft. Among the most prominent proponents of this theory is Erich von Däniken, who says that the images were part of a runway for the spacecraft of extraterrestrials whom he calls “ancient astronauts.”

Sceptics, however, say that the images were created not to signal or honour extraterrestrials but to signal or honour gods. In other words, ancient peoples made the images, on their own, as part of their worship practices. Alternatively, some scholars have suggested that the images were part of ancient calendars, perhaps used to guide planting and harvesting times or to understand various aspects of astronomy.

Meanwhile, new earth drawings continue to be found. In February 2005, for example, another group of giant figures, about fifty in all, were reportedly discovered in the hills of a southern coastal desert in Peru. Scholars believe that these drawings, which are of human figures, birds, monkeys, cats, and other animals, were created by a people, as yet unidentified, sometime between 600 and 100 B.C.


  • ancient astronauts;
  • Nazca lines


The Greenhaven Encyclopedia of Paranormal Phenomena – written by Patricia D. Netzley © 2006 Gale, a part of Cengage Learning