Flooding and tourism threaten Peru's mysterious Nazca Lines

One of South America's most important, and mysterious, archaeological sites is under "great threat", a leading conservationist has warned.

One of South America's most important, and mysterious, archaeological sites is under "great threat", a leading conservationist has warned.

The Nazca Lines, a series of giant animal and geometric shapes carved into the pampas in south-eastern Peru and clearly visible only from the air, attract hundreds of thousands of tourists every year.

But the Unesco World Heritage site could be destroyed or damaged beyond repair within a matter of years, says Viktoria Nikitzki of the Maria Reiche Centre. The organisation, based in the nearby city of Nazca, is dedicated to researching and protecting the Lines.

"There has been deforestation everywhere so water from the highlands comes down to the Lines in streams and rivers. The Lines themselves are superficial, they are only 10 to 30cm deep and could be washed away," she said. "There is no maintenance or any sort of care for the Lines. Also there is threat by the weather. Nazca has only ever received a small amount of rain. But now there are great changes to the weather all over the world. The Lines cannot resist heavy rain without being damaged."

Pollution and dust from a nearby iron mine and people trespassing and even driving vehicles over the 200 square-mile site are also causes for concern.

The Maria Reiche Centre says international intervention is needed to protect the Lines, calling for local pollution controls and irrigation systems to divert water away from them.

The 300 lines are thought to have been constructed between 700BC and AD900. They were created by the removal of darker surface stones to reveal lighter soil beneath.

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