The Nazca Lines in southern Peru are possibly one of the most mind-boggling archaeological sites in the world. Filled with various geoglyphs, they are about 2,000 years old and cover an enormous area of roughly 450 square kilometres. They are an icon of Nazca culture and have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994.
The damage, covering an area of some 50 by 100 metres, was caused by a truck being driven over the actual Nazca lines, causing deep tire marks that compromised the integrity of the original compositions, as shown below.
Needless to say, the truck driver, a man aged 40, was arrested following the incident. However, he was released this Monday, as the local magistrate found insufficient proof of the driver’s intention in order to guarantee a conviction.
Cultural heritage protection in Peru is a matter of the greatest national importance and Peru is certainly one of the most active of the South American states in its efforts to protect its cultural heritage. The first laws restricting excavations and ultimately protecting cultural heritage date from the 16th century and especially after the country’s independence from Spain the matter became one of national identity as well. Currently, cultural heritage protection is strictly regulated both by the Peruvian Constitution as well as by federal legislation (Ley General del Patrimonio Cultural de la Nacion, law no. 28296) and commerce and export of cultural objects are severely restricted.
In light of the stringent regulations and following this incident, local authorities have announced plans to increase surveillance and protection measures for the site, a herculean challenge that must be undertaken given that this was the second instance of human damage to the site in recent years. In 2014, Greenpeace activists also left marks on the sand, as they walked next to one of the geoglyphs to place a protest banner, as seen below.
Ultimately, what both instances show is that despite all the protective frameworks that come with the designation of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, or the efforts of local government and, more literally, the several warning signs on the site, nothing can completely safeguard heritage sites from the simplest, and yet most preventable, of hazards: human carelessness.