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3 February 2004
Trash and tracks threaten Nazca Lines

Trash and small-time gold diggers are threatening Peru's fragile Nazca Lines. But also grave robbers, tractor trailers and tourists have left their mark on the mammoth designs carved more than a millennium ago along a 35-mile stretch of desert. In many ways the damage reflects Peru's inability to protect its myriad of pre-Columbian archaeological gems.
     Located 250 miles south of Lima, the lines have puzzled scientists, drawn mystics and even inspired an eccentric German to devote the last five decades of her life to studying and protecting them. Each year, about 80,000 tourists fly over the pictographs. But loosely guarded by day, the site is wide open by night.
     Last October,  state archaeologist Alberto Urbano blew the whistle on the municipality of Nazca in October for briefly dumping trash inside the 175-square-mile protected zone that has been a United Nations World Heritage site since 1994. Three months earlier, highway officials had to move a weighing station 10 miles north of the zone to stop cargo trucks from cutting across the lines to avoid paying tolls.
     Since German mathematician Maria Reich died in 1998 at age 95, watching over the site has fallen upon a handful of men she once employed - and Urbano, the lone state archaeologist. Reich's remaining guards finance their operations by charging tourists 6 nuevo soles, or less than $2, to climb up a metal observation tower beside the Pan-American Highway, which itself cuts through the site - and an unlucky lizard figure.
     Nazca Mayor Daniel Mantilla wants the municipality to take over caring for the site. He says he was forced to drop trash in the protected zone because the culture institute failed to approve a site for a new dump. "The lines are in danger," he says. "The government must decide who should protect them." The mayor's comments reflect a broader problem, with the underfunded and overextended culture institute butting heads with town officials across the nation. Meanwhile, the United Nations has criticized the agency for failing to take care of several of Peru's 10 World Heritage sites.
    In Nazca, Italian archaeologist Giuseppe Orefici, who has been studying the Nazca culture for 22 years, believes damage is extensive. "There are thousands of other hieroglyphics that aren't off-limits - and they are being destroyed rapidly," he says at his research center. Congressman Luis Gonzales Posada, whose district includes Nazca, wants the United Nations to expand the World Heritage site to protect lesser known lines in Palpa, north of the Nazca Lines.

Sources: Associated Press, The Salt Lake Tribune (1 February 2004)

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