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.
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 (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 – Archive.today
By M R Reese