The Nazca Lines
I peruse a few archaeology magazines on a regular basis, mainly for the Egyptological information. But despite my predominant interest being Egypt, my favorite archaeology magazine is the Archaeological Institute of America's magazine, Archaeology, for it's variety of information. Several months ago, the aforesaid magazine began to pimp it's "upcoming article on the Nasca Lines." This wasn't too long after the Nazca Lines made their way into the storyline of Yuugiou 5D's. Given their appropriately timed articles on crystal skulls and a certain dragon emperor, I couldn't help but think they're hoping to catch the attention of the Yuugiou fandom.
With bated breath I've been awaiting the arrival of the article, which appears in the May/June 2009 issue (which happens to be the latest issue at the time of writing this). I'm not going to scan the entire article (I don't think the AIA would be very happy with me if I did), but I will summarize the main points, as well as give some extra information and links for pictures. If you would like to read the entire article, you can buy it in bookstores or on-line.
I'll start with a quick note on the "Nazca/Nasca" bit. I've been pondering this for a while and haven't seen an explanation. I've seen both used, and near as I can tell, neither is wrong. Peru, home to the desert which the Lines are named after, uses "Nazca." On the other hand, "Nasca," which is used by Archaeology, seems to be the English version. This isn't unusual. Italy's Pompei is spelt Pompeii in English. Unless otherwise quoting from Archaeology, I'll be using "Nazca."
A Quick History
The Nazca culture was pre-dated by the Paracas culture. As early as 800 B.C.E., the people of Paracas were making petroglyphs, rock drawings/carvings, which are considered to be the precursors of the Nazca Lines. In the late Paraca period, the people started making geoglyphs in the valleys of Nazca and Palpa, which continued throughout the Nazca culture (Nazca culture lasted from 2 C.E. to about 700 C.E.).
The Lines themselves are made by shifting the red stones on the desert floor and exposing the soft white sand underneath. Being arid and almost windless, the desert has since preserved the Lines for all these centuries. While the Nazca Lines are the more famous (probably because their forms are less abstract), The lesser-known glyphs in the Palpa Valley are some of the largest. The Palpas Lines are a variety of straight lines and trapzoids. Given the immense size and shapes, some of these have been nicknamed "runways."
Like all civilizations, Paracan and Nazcan were based on water-supply. Evidence shows that 4000 years ago, water was more abundant in the Nazca and Palpa Valleys. Starting around 1000 B.C.E., the region became drier and near the start of the Nazca civilization in 1 C.E., the people shifted inland, possibly chasing a water-supply.
Alien foot-prints, large diving rods and Jibakushin aside, the article dicusses that the latest archaeological evidence points to the Lines being created for religious purposes, possibly for the people to ask their gods for water. Evidence has been uncovered showing the area of the Lines is compacted (an indication of being walked on), pottery was smashed next to it (the article states that this is a ceremonial practice in Andean cultures that is not understood), seashells were present (they were used by the Andeans to ask their gods for rain) and remnants of platforms where evidence of sacrifices have been unearthed at the extreme ends of some of the trapezoids.
In the end, the land became more arid, and the old settlements were abandoned as people sought out land in the highlands. The Lines then remained forgotten until the 1920's, when they were rediscovered by pilots flying over the area.
For further information on the topic (hey, I said it was going to be short), aside from the links I provided above (Nazca Mystery has lots of beautiful pictures, if you haven't already noticed), I recommend looking up the works of Maria Reiche, an archaeologist who worked extensively on the Nazca Lines.