Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Maria Reiche

I've been reading a lot of Bruce Chatwin, as you may have seen in my previous post. One of his stories in What am I Doing Here that especially intrigues me is that of Maria Reiche, a mathematician and geographer who spent forty years of her life studying the Nazca lines on the Peruvian Pampa. These lines were etched into the desert by ancient civilizations, making shapes visible only from the air. Reiche labored first to understand the lines, then to get others to recognize the Pampa's importance, and finally to protect it from tourists and developers. Chatwin effectively explains Reiche's intense commitment to the land and her distress as she watched more and more people coming to see it, driving over the vulnerable Pampa and altering the figures and the landscape forever. She personally saw and fought what too often happens to incredible and unique natural places as development threatens them. She first had to fight for recognition, so that the value of the Pampa itself would be seen as greater than the profits that could come from developing it. She then had to fight to keep the new streams of tourists from ignorantly ruining the lines by walking and driving across them, or even trying to etch their own additions to the ancient artwork in the desert. She made it her life's commitment to preserve these lines, and finally in 1995, three years before her death, she succeeded in gaining UNESCO protection for the Nazca plateau and the lines. It's amazing that this one woman was able to teach the world so much about the Nazca civilization, while also preserving the evidence of this civilization for future generations.

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