University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Nazca vs. Aliens

April 25, 2011

Alleged alien encounters are not a modern-day phenomenon, yet we seem to actively incorporate those themes into the everyday life more than our predecessors. For decades, it seems there is at least one Hollywood blockbuster every summer that tackles the question of what would happen if extra-terrestrials contacted mankind.

The most recent Indiana Jones flick – Kingdom of the Crystal Skull – is one in a long line of movies that touch on what might happen if non-earth-based beings were to encounter homo sapiens. Like all of the Indiana Jones movies, this one used actual archaeological discoveries – this time in the form of crystal skulls – to make a leap from the real to the surreal.

One of the longest-standing arguments for alien-presence in the “ancient” world is the presence of the Nazca lines, which (depending on who you ask) are a series of road-maps, landing grids, or artwork for those who tend to hover several thousand feet above the surface of the Earth.

Nazca line - Monkey. Peru.

Some of those who support these theories tend to discredit what earlier civilizations were capable of, but the belief still exists … even strongly enough to be the premise of a multi-million dollar franchise. But, as is usually the case, the actions of these intergalactic graffiti artists can be readily explained, at least in methodology. It is still unclear as to why the Nazca lines exist, but artists’ intentions are sometimes difficult to comprehend.

In the final section of Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archaeology, the comparison is made between the presence of Nazca lines (and Precolumbian civilization in general), to what really existed in that time and space. No proof exists for a treasure-gathering council of inter-dimensional travelers, but we do have proof of an advanced civilization who was capable of creating long-lasting works of art, both on the ground and above it (pots shown below are two of the nine pots included in the exhibit).

Nazca pot featuring human figures, Penn Museum #SA2932.
Nazca pot featuring decapitated heads, Penn Museum #SA3062.

That’s all for now regarding the Penn Museum collection’s ties with Indiana Jones, but I highly encourage anyone who can get to Montreal this summer to do so in order to see this amazing exhibit. We’re hopeful that the exhibit will be able to travel through the states very soon, but for now it looks like Indy will need his passport.

  • mgleeson

    hi Kate. Sorry, your comment just showed up – we’ve been having some problems with the comments lately and it’s frustrating because I don’t want to discourage commenting! Anyway, I’m going to answer on behalf of Laura, our graduate intern who did this project. I can safely say that no damage was done to these objects during this treatment. Laura worked very carefully, as she said, under the binocular microscope. Working under magnification allows us to have very precise control over our tools and materials, and allows us to see things that we would not be possible to see just using our eyes. We also test treatment procedures on objects under the microscope, allowing us to do these tests in very small, inconspicuous areas, in case we find that the materials cause darkening, or change the surface gloss, or are not easily controlled. This way, we are not facing many problems during the treatment process. I hope this adequately answers your question, and thanks! Oh, and check out the most recent post on consolidation of a shabti, to see a 1-minute video clip of consolidating paint under 10x magnification!

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