Maria Reiche

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Maria Reiche
Maria Reiche.jpg
Maria Reiche in 1986
Born (1903-05-15)15 May 1903
Dresden, German Empire
Died 8 June 1998(1998-06-08) (aged 95)
Lima, Peru
Alma mater Dresden Technical University
Known for Nazca Lines
Scientific career
Fields Archaeology

Maria Reiche (15 May 1903 – 8 June 1998) was a German-born Peruvian mathematician, archaeologist, and technical translator. She is known for her research into the Nazca Lines, which she discovered together with American historian Paul Kosok in 1940. Known as the "Lady of the Lines", Reiche made the documentation, preservation and public dissemination of the Nazca Lines her life's work.[1]

Although her work gained limited scholarly recognition, Maria Reich received the recognition as Doctor Honoris Causa by the Universidad Nacional de Ingenieria from Lima, Peru. Reiche was successful in bringing international attention to the Nazca Lines; they were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.[2] Following her death, her former home in Nazca was adapted into a museum, the Museo Maria Reiche. Maria Reiche Neuman Airport in Nazca is also named after her, as are some fifty schools and other institutions in Peru.[citation needed] The 115th anniversary of her birth was commemorated with a Google Doodle in May 2018.[3][4][5]

Early life and education[edit]

Reiche in 1910

Maria Reiche was born in Dresden on 15 May 1903. She studied mathematics, astronomy, geography and foreign languages at the Dresden Technical University.[6] She spoke five languages.[1]

In 1932, she began work as a nanny and governess for the children of the German consul in Cusco, Peru. In 1934, while still in Cusco, she accidentally stabbed herself with a cactus and lost a finger to gangrene. In 1939, she became a teacher in Lima and worked on scientific translations.[1] When World War II broke out that year, Maria stayed in Peru and discovered the lines and figures of Nazca while she was flying over the Nazca desert.[7]

Nazca lines[edit]

In 1940, Reiche became an assistant to Paul Kosok, an American historian from Long Island University in Brooklyn, New York.[1]

Paul noticed lines that converged at the point of the winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere in June 1941. Together he and Reiche began to map and assess the lines for their relation to astronomical events. Later Reiche found lines converging at the summer solstice and developed the theory that the lines formed a large-scale celestial calendar.[8] Around 1946, Reiche began to map the figures represented by the Nazca Lines and determined there were 18 different kinds of animals and birds. After Kosok left in 1948, Reiche continued the work and mapped the area. She used her background as a mathematician to analyze how the Nazca may have created such huge-scale figures. She found these to have a mathematical precision that was highly sophisticated. Reiche theorized that the builders of the lines used them as a sun calendar and an observatory for astronomical cycles.[1]

Wax figure of Reiche in her former home, now a museum dedicated to her work

Because the lines can be best seen from above, she persuaded the Peruvian Air Force to help her make aerial photographic surveys. She worked alone from her home in Nazca. Reiche published her theories in the book The Mystery on the Desert (1949, reprint 1968). She believed that the large drawing of a giant monkey represented the constellation now called Ursa Major (Great Bear).[8] Her book had a mixed response from scholars. Eventually scholars concluded that the lines were not chiefly for astronomical purposes, but Reiche's and Kosok's work had brought scholarly attention to the great resource. It is widely believed that they were used as part of worship and religious ceremonies related to the "calling of water from the gods."[9]

Reiche used the profits from the book to campaign for preservation of the Nazca desert and to hire guards for the property and assistants for her work. Wanting to preserve the Nazca Lines from encroaching traffic, after one figure was cut through by the Pan American Highway government development, Reiche spent considerable money in the effort to lobby and educate officials and the public about the lines. After paying for private security, she convinced the government to restrict public access to the area. She sponsored construction of a tower near the highway so that visitors could have an overview of the lines to appreciate them without damaging them. Reiche contributed to the lines becoming a World Heritage site in 1994.[8]

In 1977, Reiche became a founding member of South American Explorers, a non-profit travel, scientific and educational organization. She was on the organization's advisory board and was interviewed for the South American Explorer on the lines' significance and importance.[10]

Personal life[edit]

Reiche's partner was Amy Meredith, who helped her in her work.[11]

Reiche's health deteriorated as she aged. She used a wheelchair, suffered from skin ailments, and lost her sight. In her later years, she also suffered from Parkinson's disease. At the age of 90 she published ''Contributions to Geometry and Astronomy in Ancient Peru''. Maria Reiche died of ovarian cancer on 8 June 1998,[8] in an Air Force Hospital in Lima. Reiche was buried with her sister near Nazca with official honors.


  1. ^ a b c d e Jr, Robert McG Thomas (1998-06-15). "Maria Reiche, 95, Keeper of an Ancient Peruvian Puzzle, Dies". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-03-03. 
  2. ^ Centre, UNESCO World Heritage. "Lines and Geoglyphs of Nasca and Palpa". Retrieved 2018-05-15. 
  3. ^ Smith, Kiona N. "Tuesday's Google Doodle Celebrates Nazca Line Archaeologist Maria Reiche". Forbes. Retrieved 2018-05-15. 
  4. ^ "Today's Google Doodle celebrates the scientist who studied the mysterious desert lines of Peru". The Verge. Retrieved 2018-05-15. 
  5. ^ "Maria Reiche's 115th Birthday". Google Doodles Archive. 2018-05-15. Retrieved 2018-05-15. 
  6. ^ "Indianer-Welt: Nazca - Biographie: Maria Reiche". Retrieved 2018-03-03. 
  7. ^ "Maria and the Stars of Nazca". Retrieved 2018-03-03. 
  8. ^ a b c d "Who was the German governess obsessed with the mystery of Peru's Nazca Lines?". The Independent. 2018-05-15. Retrieved 2018-05-15. 
  9. ^ "The Nazca Lines", Peru Cultural Society, accessed 27 January 2012
  10. ^ "Bean Sprouts New Theory" (PDF). Retrieved 16 February 2013.  South American Explorer, January 1983
  11. ^ "FemBio - Frauen-Biographieforschung: Maria Reiche". Retrieved 2018-05-15. 

External links[edit]