May 15, 2018
Maria Reiche’s 115th Birthday
As the sun peeks over the high desert horizon in southern Peru, it illuminates a rust-colored “blackboard” scrawled with curious white lines — some perfectly straight, many with hairpin curves — that stretch for miles. Only from the air are the subjects revealed: a monkey, a spider, a hummingbird, and many more.
These are the Nazca Lines, and for decades, Maria Reiche was their staunch guardian — a lone woman perched on a stepladder, bearing a sextant, compass, broom, and mathematical mind.
Reiche was born in Dresden on May 15th, 1903, and went on to study mathematics, astronomy, and geography. In 1932, she was selected from a slew of applicants to take a job in Peru — a move that would decide the course of her life. Working with historian Paul Kosok in 1941, Reiche was first introduced to the ancient figures, or geoglyphs, that stretch across the pampa.
Intrigued, Reiche fully dedicated herself to the study of the mysterious white shapes. Using a measuring tape, sextant, and compass, she measured almost 1000 lines, investigating their astronomical orientation. Reiche discovered that many of the Lines function as markers for the summer solstice, and theorized their builders used the figures as an astronomical calendar. (Today, the Lines are believed to have served a more ceremonial purpose.) Upon mapping the area (with the help of the Peruvian Air Force), she discovered the figures represent 18 different kinds of animals and birds, in addition to hundreds of geometric shapes.
Reiche was was also devoted to the Lines’ protection. With only a household broom, she physically shielded the figures from people and vehicles, in addition to raising money for their overall preservation. Gradually, the “woman who swept the desert” became known worldwide as the “Lady of the Lines.”
Reiche’s immense dedication deeply endeared her to the people of Peru, so much that in 1992 she was granted Peruvian citizenship, and the Nazca airport is named after her. In 1995, UNESCO declared the Nazca Lines a World Heritage Site.
Today’s Doodle by Guille Comin and Elda Broglio depicts the “Lady of the Lines” in her element on what would have been her 115th birthday.
Early concepts and drafts of the Doodle below