Much of the appeal of South America lies in its unsolved mysteries and ancient wonders. The natural world is part of this, with new species of plant and animals still being discovered – but also there is are the relics of ancient civilisations and the stories of those that lived thousands of years ago.
Such is the lack of knowledge about pre-Columbian civilisations that many bizarre theories have sprung up around ancient sites. Some have even suggested that they are proof of extraterrestrial aliens!
The deserts of southern Peru are marked by strange and mysterious lines that make huge pictures that range from geometric patterns to representations of animals. Known as ‘geoglyphs’, very little is known about the purpose of these markings or the people that made them sometime around the fifth century.
It is thought that the lines were constructed by the Nazca people, the descendants of whom still live in the region. A lot of the mystery that surrounds the Nazca Lines is that to see them properly you need to be airborne. This has left theorists suggesting that they may have been a means of communicating with flying aliens!
There is no real evidence for the ‘aliens’ explanation for the Nazca Lines, much as there is none for the theory that the people of the time had access to some sort of flying machine. A man called Jim Woodman was able to build a crude hot air balloon using only materials that would have been available to the people living there at the time that they were constructed – but there is absolutely nothing to indicate something of the sort had ever existed.
Also in Peru, dating from the fifteenth century Machu Picchu is known as the ‘The Lost City of the Incas’. Also in Peru, dating from the fifteenth century Machu Picchu is known as the ‘The Lost City of the Incas’. Also in Peru, dating from the fifteenth century Machu Picchu is known as the ‘The Lost City of the Incas’. It really is a magnificent structure set in a breath-taking landscape and it is a major tourist draw on the ‘Inca Trail’ with visitors from around the world flocking to see it.
Nobody is sure of exactly why the the Incas built Machu Picchu. The most widely accepted theories are that it was the last city of the Inca civilisation or some kind of religious complex. Of course there are those that have other ideas, once again pointing their fingers at the flying saucer riding little green men.
UFO theorists question the official line on Machu Picchu mainly because it is so impressive. The stoneworking techniques used in its construction are very advanced, and the place where it is built is really high above sea level and very inaccessible. Another source of speculation is the mystery around why the site was abandoned.
Deep in the South Pacific, Easter Island is part of Chile. Known as Isla de Pascua in Spanish, the island is famous for the hundreds of giant stone statues that litter the island. The statues are called moai and the largest of them is 82 tons, and stood 33ft tall.
In his seminal (and controversial) book Chariots of the Gods Erich Von Daniken sets forth the ‘ancient aliens’ theory. The Easter Island statues must have been constructed with the aid of aliens with flying machines, argued Daniken, as the stone used was not native to the island. Unfortunately for the proponents of extra-terrestrials this was completely made up.
The actual quarry from which the moai were carved has been found, complete with works in progress. One statue could have weighed over 270 tons had it been finished, instead it was abandoned. It is now believed that the construction of the monuments led to a social and environmental collapse – due in large part to the felling of trees for use as rollers.