The incredible Sajama Lines of Bolivia

The unknown origins of the incredible Sajama Lines of Bolivia


In Western Bolivia, thousands and thousands of perfectly straight paths are etched into the ground, creating an amazing sight. These lines, otherwise known as geoglyphs, were etched into the ground over a period of 3,000 years by indigenous people living near the volcano Sajama. It is unknown exactly when or why they were constructed, but they remain a mystery, as it is hard to imagine how the construction of something of such magnitude could pre-date modern technology.

The Sajama lines cover an area of approximately 22,525 square kilometers, or 8,700 square miles. They are perfectly straight lines, formed into a web or network. Each individual line is 1-3 meters, or 3-10 feet wide. The longest lines measure 20 kilometers, or 12 miles in length.  The creation of these lines without the aid of modern technology is a marvel. They were etched into the ground by scraping vegetation to the side, and scouring away dark surface material consisting of soil and oxidized rock, to reveal a light subsurface. The precision of the Sajama lines is remarkable. According to scholars at the University of Pennsylvania:

While many of these sacred lines extend as far as ten or twenty kilometers (and perhaps further), they all seem to maintain a remarkable straightness despite rugged topography and natural obstacles. The sheer number and length of these lines is often difficult to perceive from ground level, but from the air or hilltop vantage points, they are stunning.

The Sajama Lines were created by scraping away surface material

Like the Nazca Lines of Peru, the Sajama Lines were created by scraping away surface material. ( Source)

Some believe that the indigenous people used the lines as a navigational tool during sacred pilgrimages. Wak'as (shrines), chullpas (burial towers) and hamlets are interspersed among the lines, creating a cultural landscape.

The striking radial arrangement of the Sajama Lines

The striking radial arrangement of the Sajama Lines ( Source)

The Sajama lines were first accounted for in 1932 by traveler Aimé Felix Tschiffely. A few years later, anthropologist Alfred Metraux published ethnographic fieldwork about the Aymara and Chipaya people of the Carangas region, bringing the lines and cultural landscape to the attention of scholars. More recently, the Landmarks Foundation has worked to protect the lines from threats of erosion, unchecked development and tourism in the area, and other dangers that come from the absence of a management plan. They have studied the lines and created a database to help protect them. Working closely with the University of Pennsylvania, the Landmarks Foundation has created the “Tierra Sajama Project,” utilizing analytic digital media tools such as geographic information systems (GIS) to map, describe, and analyze the lines. The Tierra Sajama Project achieved the objectives of:

  • Creating a computer-database of maps and pertinent information about the lines, local vegetation, and relevant topography
  • Analyzing and interpreting the patterns and meanings of various land features such as mountaintop shrines and religious structures to determine possible alignments to the sacred lines
  • Developing proposals that provided for long-term protection of the lines and enhanced appreciation of the sacred landscape

Unfortunately, the analytical mapping of the size, shape, and location of the Sajama lines doesn’t answer the many questions which remain, such as who created them, what was their purpose, and what tools did they use? Answering these questions may help us to understand another piece of human history. For now, we will have to continue to marvel at the vast area covered by the lines, and the amount of effort it must have taken to create them, without fully understanding their purpose or function.

Featured image: The Sajama Lines, Bolivia ( Source )


Sajama Lines – Wikipedia

Nevado Sajama – Desert Mountaineer

Geoglyphs of the Andes – Basement Geographer

Sajama Lines, Sajama, Bolivia –

By M R Reese


Tsurugi's picture

Just now saw this reply. I agree with you 100%.

Okay, so I went too far in saying that producing those lines was child's play but to call it rocket science would be too much as well. I am trying to find the reconciliation that puts all the parts together. Large structures of sheer mind numbing precision, the lines and graphics on the surface artistically not related to the structures and the fact that the lines are obviously meant to be viewed from the air and the structures were built under practically impossible conditions, (locality of materials used, altitude and position, etc). All this spells what? It spells "we don't have all the facts". We are either missing the info about "Outside Helpers" or our present "High-Tech" state is just one revolution of a very old and long cycle of mankind on earth. The structures and clues dictate either that there were times when our ancestors had equal or higher abilities in technology to us presently, or we had company.

Tsurugi's picture

True. But they are easily recognizable as roads, and should be even long after the asphalt and concrete is long gone. They kinda meander around, seeking the path of least resistance. Sometimes the path of least resistance meant cutting off big chunks of hills to make a pass, other times it meant building massive earthwork ramps, etc., but usually it meant going around areas that would have required all that hill cutting and ramp building.

These lines are different. They do not dodge stuff. They go straight, no matter what the terrain is. More like survey lines than roads.

Imagine what the future might ask about our Interstate Highway system. The concrete and asphalt will have eroded away leaving interesting flat beds stretching for thousands of miles...

Tsurugi's picture

It's not that easy. Good Surveyors are well-paid, with good reason.

As another commenter suggested, try drawing a perfectly straight line between two points in your yard. Check your work using a laser level or by stretching a piece of string between the points.

Then imagine stretching that line in your backyard to twenty miles, keeping it perfectly straight over hills, mountains, rivers and canyons(or, if you're an urbanite, bridges, skyscrapers, freeways and canals).

I agree with the possibility that some of these things may be examples of cargo cults.
Who's cargo? That is the question.


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