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Maria Reiche (1903–1998)

Author of Markings: Aerial Views of Sacred Landscapes

Includes the names: Maria Reiche

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Maria Reiche was born in Dresden, Germany, and studied mathematics, astronomy, geography, and foreign languages at the Dresden Technical University. In 1932, she went to Peru as a nanny for the children of a German consul in Cuzco. She became a teacher in Lima and used her knowledge of five languages to do scientific translations. After the outbreak of World War II, when German nationals were detained in Peru, she became an assistant to Paul Kosok, an American historian from Long Island University in New York. Kosok is credited as the first Westerner to seriously investigate the Nazca Lines during his field studies from 1939–1941 and 1948–1949. With him, Maria Reiche began to map and assess the lines for their relation to astronomical events. She found lines converging at the summer solstice. Around 1946, she began to map the figures represented by the Nazca Lines and determined there were 18 different kinds of animals and birds. After Kosok left Peru in 1948, she continued mapping the area, using her training in mathematics to analyze how the Nazca may have created such large-scale figures. She theorized that the builders of the lines used them as a sun calendar and an observatory for astronomical cycles. She persuaded the Peruvian Air Force to help her make an aerial photographic surveys. She published her theories in The Mystery on the Desert (1949), which received a mixed response from scholars. She used profits from the book to campaign for preservation of the Nazca desert and to lobby and educate Peruvian officials and the public about the importance of the Nazca Lines. In 1977, she was a founding member of South American Explorers, a nonprofit travel, scientific and educational organization. At her death in 1998, she was buried near Nazca with official honors. In 1995, UNESCO declared the Nazca Lines a World Heritage Site.
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