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The Airship Nazca Project

Issued 25 July 2008 – for immediate release

Announcing the Airship Nazca project

Airship Nazca is an exiting new project using an airship as an aerial platform for a
photographic and remote-sensing survey of the endangered lines and geoglyphs in Peru, which
were featured recently in the film 'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull'.

The Lines and Geoglyphs of Nazca and Pampas de Jumana are one of the greatest cultural
wonders of our planet. Situated in south-western Peru, 500 square km of arid plains are
covered with lines straight as an arrow, fantastic geometric shapes and over seventy drawings
of animals, insects and even human figures. These geoglyphs are huge, for example the
famous Monkey with its spiralling tail is over 91.5 m across, while the Hummingbird - the
symbol for this project and which in Andean mythology represents a special messenger of the
gods - has a wingspan of 61 m.

Best seen from the air, their purpose and how they were made has intrigued archaeologists
and mathematicians ever since their re-discovery. But now they are under threat and may face
irredeemable damage as the result of tourism pressure and the impact of climate change.
In 2010 Airship Nazca will undertake the most detailed survey of the site ever conducted. “It
will raise the profile of Nazca and other sites at risk, emphasising the need to protect the
drawings while providing a blueprint of every square centimetre,” commented John Christopher
of Airship Initiatives, the project coordinator.

Heritage under threat

Nazca is one of the most fragile archaeological sites in the world. The plains consist of a
powdery gypsum-laden soil covered by a layer of rocks and stones; glacial debris that has
been fragmented into small pieces. These stones have a high iron content and through
oxidization they have darkened to give the site its distinctive reddish-brown tone. The lines
and geoglyphs were created by clearing the stones and piling them to either side, thus
exposing and contrasting the stones with the lighter-coloured soil underneath.
The reason why the lines and geoglyphs have survived for so long is because of the site's
stable climate which has almost no rain. However as reported by UNESCO there is growing
concern about the impact of climate change upon many world heritage sites and in Peru there
are regional factors with deforestation and erosion blamed for mudslides and flash-floods in
many areas. In 2000 unusually heavy rains triggered mudslides in the hills south of the
drawings, causing damage to one of the minor lines and prompting one archaeologist to
declare it "an important wake up call."

The rise in international tourism has brought mixed blessings to many parts of the world.
Of concern at Nazca is not the quantity of visitors, but the actions of a few. Because the
surface is so fragile any marks made by the tyres of a vehicle, or even a footprint, will last as
long as the lines themselves. Tourists are now kept off the main area and see the drawings
from the 15 m viewing tower or from light aircraft.


The Nazca lines and geoglyphs cover the arid plains situated
between the Pacific Ocean and the coastal mountains in the
south-west of Peru.

Location coordinates:
14 degrees 41' 38.3” S, Long 75 degrees 06' 49.6” W

Why use an airship?

The airship is an ideal stable platform from which to conduct a low-level survey. It can be
adapted to carry a range of equipment and instruments, flying low-and-slow or even
maintaining station if required. The airship can also take best advantage of the light conditions
to photograph the lines and drawings which are shallow and do not show up well on satellite
imagery. It will also provide the opportunity to carry equipment and experiments devised by
students and school children and some may even get the opportunity to fly in the airship as
part of their studies. Crucially, given the fragile nature of the Nazca site, the airship is
environmentally non-intrusive and the entire survey will be conducted without leaving a single
footprint on the surface. Recent advances in remote sensing technology, especially with Lidar
which using pulses of light to produce accurate terrain modelling, should provide the most
comprehensive survey of Nazca ever attempted.
World Heritage Site

The Lines and Geoglyphs of Nazca and Pampas de Jumana were inscribed on to the World
Heritage List relatively recently, in 1994. The list, maintained by the World Heritage
Programme administered by UNESCO, includes 878 sites which are considered as having
outstanding importance.

The Airship Nazca project team

The Airship Nazca project has been devised by John Christopher of Airship Initiatives, a
UK-based company dedicated to putting airships to work. With extensive experience in lighter-
than-air flight and operations, Airship Initiatives are involved in a range of airship projects and
also act as independent consultants for clients all over the world. The Zeppelin Tours part of
their operation organises airship pleasure flights in many countries including Germany, Japan,
the UK and in the USA.

Airship Initiatives is working with Professor Nick Saunders and the University of Bristol
Archaeology Department on the archaeological aspects of the project, and the handling of the
data and imagery obtained. Nick Saunders is recognised internationally as an expert on the
Nazca lines and geoglyphs and, together with Professor Clive Ruddles of Leicester University, is
involved in on-going research at Nazca.

For more information or pictures contact:

John Christopher, Airship Initiatives

Tel +44 (0)870 479 8373