'Guardian Angel' of Peru's Nazca Lines dead at 95
LIMA, Peru (AP) -- Maria Reiche, a German mathematician who spent more than half a century studying and protecting Peru's enigmatic Nazca Lines, died Monday of cancer. She was 95.
Reiche died at a military hospital in Lima. She had been diagnosed with
ovarian cancer on May 8.
Also known as "the Lady of the Lines," Reiche was captivated by the
vastness and solitude of the Nazca plains, which cover a 35-mile (60-km)
stretch of desert and are Peru's major tourist attraction after Machu Picchu.
"When I do die, I want to be buried in this fascinating place, which I
much," she said.
Threats to the lines have included vandalism, a government project to
"reconstruct" the drawings, acid rain from mining operations in nearby
mountains and even a plan to flood the plains for agriculture.
Reiche fought them all alone.
'A very fragile manuscript'
"This precious thing should be treated like a very fragile manuscript that
guarded in a special room in a library," she once said.
Her death left many Peruvians wondering about the fate of the lines, which
she protected by paying guards with money she earned from the sale of her
book about the drawings.
"Maria Reiche's death saddens all Peruvians, particularly archaeologists,
because, with her, we had the certainty that this ancient legacy of Peru
would be preserved " said Federico Kauffmann-Doig, one of Peru's leading
archaeologists. "And now that she is dead, all this work is in danger."
After years of study, Reiche concluded that the designs represented a giant
calendar linked to the movements of the sun, moon and constellations, which
told ancient desert dwellers when to plant and irrigate crops.
The shallow lines were made more than a thousand years ago -- hundreds
years before the Inca empire -- by clearing the stony surface of the plains
and exposing the whitish soil underneath.
Thousands of lines, some more than five miles (9 km) long, cross the plains
straight as arrows and climb distant hills. Others zigzag or spiral over the
Scattered among the lines are dozens of figures, including a hummingbird,
monkey, heron, whale, cat with a fish's tail, spider and flower, ranging from
four yards (meters) to 900 feet (300 meters) in length.
'I like solitude'
In 1946, armed with a broom and a rake, Reiche began cleaning the lines
small rocks and other debris, revealing to the world their dimensions. She
spent weeks at a time on the desert, living off a meager diet of fruit and nuts
and slept under the stars.
"I like solitude," she said once. "As a little girl I used to close myself
up in the
dark basement of my house. God kept me company."
Residents in Nazca, the small town on the edge of the lines, 250 miles
kms) south of Lima, initially thought she was "crazy," she liked to recall with
In time, they admired her for putting their town on the world tourist map
bringing in badly needed dollars.
Her birthday became an annual event celebrated with street dances and
ceremonies. In 1993, the government honored her with the Order of the
Sun, its highest award.
"The people of Nazca are in mourning. We are all with her," Nazca Mayor
Luz Torres said.