Monday, May 15, 2017

Maria Reiche - The Lady of the Lines

Maria Reiche (15 May 1903–8 June 1998) was a German mathematician, archaeologist, and translator who studied the Nazca Lines in Peru. Known as the "Lady of the Lines," she helped educate people about these remarkable geoglyphs, and worked hard to gain government recognition and preservation for them.

She was born in Dresden, Germany, where she attended Dresden Technical University studying mathematics, astronomy, geography and foreign languages. After graduation, she moved to Peru to work as a nanny and teacher for the children of the German consul in Cuzco. Once her position there ended, she stayed in Cuzco, working as a teacher as well as a technical translator. (She spoke five languages!)

In 1940, she became an assistant to an American historian, Paul Kosok, who was studying the mysterious lines in the Nazca desert. Together, they worked to map the lines and discover their meaning. In 1946, she began to map the lines and determined there were 18 different animals and birds represented. After Paul Kosok left Peru, she remained to continue her research. She used her mathematical knowledge to analyze how the Nazca people could have created these images on such an enormous scale. To get a better look at the lines, she enlisted the help of the Peruvian Air Force to take photographic surveys from above.

As increased development began to damage the lines (a highway was built right through one of the images), she turned her attention to education and preservation efforts. She even went so far as to hire private security to protect the lines, until the Peruvian government finally agreed to limit public access to these important heritage sites.

The image at the top is from the fantastic Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls (Amazon/Library) by Elena Favilli & Francesca Cavallo, with the illustration by Gaia Stella. I was fortunate enough to be able to interview Elena and Francesca while they were running their Kickstarter for this excellent book.

Read more about her life and work in the excellent obituary in the Independent

Check out this biography, Maria Reiche by Wilfredo Gameros

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