That image of the self-appointed “Lady of the Lines” is incongruous with the calamitously ill-conceived publicity stunt pulled by 20 Greenpeace activists last month.
Sneaking into the restricted zone in a predawn march, they allegedly caused “irreparable damage” to the iconic hummingbird geoglyph when they laid a message that read “TIME FOR CHANGE,” directed at climate change negotiators at the COP20 UN summit, 280 miles north in capital Lima.
Seemingly to make up for years of half-hearted efforts to protect the lines from illegal miners, land squatters, truck and race car drivers and tomb raiders, Peru’s Ministry of Culture decided to throw the book at the environmentalists.
And to emphasize this newly discovered resolve, the Culture Ministry has decided to widen its focus and go after a Japanese TV crew and its own resident archaeologist, who two years ago led the TV crew to the hummingbird drawing. A photographer with Associated Press, who covered the Greenpeace actions, is also being indicted.
Greenpeace undoubtedly calculated that it would create a scandal with its action and expected some reprisal. As it should.
But at the same time the Culture Ministry should be consistent in its own actions and policies, and the Nazca Lines are an example of the reactions rather than pro-active actions taken throughout the country, today by the Culture Ministry as it was for decades by its earlier form, the National Institute of Culture, INC.
There is an increasing pressure on archaeological areas everywhere, due to urban and industrial sprawl, and Nazca is no exception. Yet the lack of decentralization, of not granting a certain autonomy to regional and provincial Culture Ministry offices, leads to slow or no action until an event like the Lines hits the headlines and triggers an over-reaction.
The Nazca Lines, first discovered in1939 by Toribio Mejia Xesspe, have become one of the country’s leading archaeological attractions thanks to Mejia and to those that followed, including Paul Kosok, Maria Reiche, Italian archaeologist Giuseppe Orefici, Johann Reinhardt and countless other photographers, journalists, archaeologists and scientists, who have worked closely with the former INC and now the ministry. And, of course, the increased fame attracts an increasing number of tourists and the curious.
But the real damage that never raises the scandal decibels to that of the Greenpeace fiasco comes from the growing number of land invasions on the plains, from informal mineral plants refining illegal gold brought in from the rainforest, and countless tracks carved out by vehicles to find short-cuts or avoid the toll highway. If policies remain the same as they have for decades, if reactions continue to be cumbersome, one day there will be no archaeological sites worth visiting.