The Ministry of Culture is to press criminal charges against an archaeologist stationed in the southern city of Nazca, after it was revealed that he guided Japanese journalists to enter a protected area of ancient geoglyphs.
The ministry said in a statement that the archaeologist, Mario Olaechea, allowed a Japanese television crew to enter an “intangible area” on the plains where the famous Nazca Lines are located. The government said that the incursion into the area, which is prohibited by law, resulted in damage to the area around the giant drawings of animals, etched into the sand some 1,500 to 2,500 years ago.
A ministry statement said that Olaechea was responsible for supervising the Japanese journalists from TV Box Inc., which was doing a report for Fuji Television Network in March 2013.
The ministry said the journalists received permission to fly over the lines and take videos, but not to enter the protected area on foot.
“They were not authorized to collect materials or alter the context of the sites that they visited, and they would be responsible for any damage that they could have caused to the sites during the time that they were doing their work,” the statement said.
A video of the incident, almost two years old now, was published by Peruvian press Wednesday and showed one of the journalists lying down in the sand between some of the lines of the hummingbird. The area where the lines are located is extremely delicate. The lines were made by removing a dark layer of soil to show the lighter-colored sand below.
The video shows archaeologist Olaechea helping the reporter put on some special “sand shoes” made of a light rubber, to walk in the proximity of the hummingbird.
The incident has come to light just a month after a controversy in the same area involving Greenpeace, the environmental organization. In early December, Greenpeace activists hiked into the same protected area of the Nazca Lines to lay out large yellow letters beside the hummingbird drawing.
The activists did the stunt during the UN-sponsored COP 20 conference on tackling climate change, that was being held in Lima at the time.
Officials at the Ministry of Culture, as well as many other government authorities, politicians, media personalities, and regular Peruvians, were outraged by the stunt as it allegedly damaged the protected area beside the geoglyph. Greenpeace’s executive director, Kumi Naidoo, flew to Lima to personally apologize to Ministry of Culture authorities.
Officials have said they are pursing criminal charges against the activists, and on Wednesday they identified some of the activists. The ministry said it would also pursue charges against Rodrigo Abd, a well-known Associated Press photographer who accompanied the activists. The ministry had originally identified Abd, incorrectly, as a Greenpeace activist, according to state news agency Andina.
While the incident turned into a public relations nightmare for Greenpeace, it also highlighted the government’s lack of investment in protecting its protected archaeological zones, some archaeologists and cultural experts said at the time. The Nazca Lines, etched into the sand on a huge expanse of the Nazca desert, are under threat from a small number of illegal mining groups and from land invasions by real estate traffickers. Last year, the government cancelled any private plans to repeat the Dakar Rally events of 2013 because of the impossibility of ensuring the bike, car and truck racers did not encroach on the Nazca plains.