Known as the Lady of the Lines, Maria Reiche studied and protected the Nazca desert where the geoglyphs (etchings of geometric patterns, plants, and animals) were created millenniums ago. Maria Reiche was a German-born Peruvian archaeologist and mathematician. Born in Dresden in 1903, she left the country in 1932 due to the corrupt political climate and the rise of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party. That year, Maria applied for a job as a nanny for the German consul’s children in Cusco, Peru. Once she got there, she fell in love with Peru and never returned to Germany.
Maria Reiche Archaeology Career
Paul Kosok (American archaeologist) was the one who re-discovered the Nazca lines, and Reiche became his assistant in 1940. After falling in love with Peru and the Inca capital, she became interested in the ancient cultures of Peru. She moved to Lima where she worked as a teacher and a translator for scientific studies and papers. After hearing about the newly discovered figures and lines in the Nazca desert, she headed there and was struck by the Nazca lines once she saw them from the air. At that moment, she decided to dedicate herself to finding out more about where they came from and what they meant.
In 1946, Reiche started mapping the Nazca figures, and after Kosok left in 1948, she continued to map the area. She theorized that the people who built the lines used them as an observatory for astronomical cycles and a solar calendar.
Dedication to Studying and Protecting the Nazca Lines
In 1946, Maria Reiche moved to the Ingenio Valley in Nazca desert in 1946 where she lived alone in a small house. For the next 40 years of her life, she engaged in long and tiring work, continuously studying and publishing her research. She made little money which she used to fund her work and organize aerial photographs, trying to persuade the Peruvian Government to protect their heritage. Eventually, access to the plains was restricted to prevent people from walking and driving over the Nazca lines.
Reiche spent day after day in the desert, working tirelessly to clean rocks from lines and develop her theories on what the lines were there for.
Mystery on the Desert (1949) is the book in which she published her theories. She used the profits to campaign for the preservation of the desert and to hire assistants for her work and guards for the property. The book received mixed reviews, and in 1998, UNESCO awarded her an individual medal for her life’s work.
Over the years, her health deteriorated and was confined to a wheelchair, but that didn’t stop her from giving lectures on the Nazca lines. Reiche was declared an honorary citizen of Peru and lived in a room in the Hotel Nazca Lines that was granted to her for the rest of her life.
Maria Reiche was the self-appointed keeper of the Peruvian mysterious heritage site for five decades. Even though she wasn’t able to prove her theory, her studies remain as the foundation for anyone who studies Nazca lines to this day.