The image, stretching over 40 meters on a hill in Peru, shows a creature with pointy ears, spherical eyes and a long striped tail. It appears to be a cat lounging, as cats often do.
Archaeologists stumbled across the faded etching while rebuilding part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the Nazca Lines, the Peruvian Ministry of Culture said last week.
The feline geoglyph, which experts say between 200 and 100 BC Dated to BC, the latest discovery is among the carvings of larger than life animals and plants previously found between the cities of Nazca and Palpa in a desert plain about 250 miles southeast of the capital, Lima.
“The discovery once again shows the rich and diverse cultural heritage of this site,” the ministry said in a statement.
The Nazca Lines were first discovered by a Peruvian air surveyor in 1927. Images of a hummingbird, a monkey and an orca were discovered on the site. UNESCO has declared the Nasca and Palpa lines and geoglyphs a World Heritage Site since 1994.
The cat etching is believed to be older than any prehistoric geoglyphs previously discovered in Nazca.
“It’s pretty noticeable that we’re still finding new numbers, but we also know there are more to be found,” Johny Isla, Peru’s chief archaeologist for the Nazca Lines, told Efe, a Spanish news agency.
The designs were believed to have originated when the ancient Peruvians scraped off a dark and rocky layer of earth that contrasts with the light-colored sand below. Researchers believe the numbers were once used as travel markers.
Drone photography has led to several discoveries in the past few years, Isla said. In 2019, researchers from Japan discovered more than 140 new geoglyphs at the site using satellite photography and three-dimensional imaging.
Research and conservation work on the site continued even during the coronavirus pandemic when most of the tourist attractions were closed. Archaeologists and staff were working at the Mirador Natural, a lookout point in the protected site, when they began to discover something interesting. As they cleaned up the mound, clean lines emerged showing the coiled body of a cat.
“The figure was barely visible and wanted to disappear as it sits on a fairly steep slope that is exposed to the effects of natural erosion,” the Ministry of Culture said in a statement.
Authorities said even a stray footprint could damage the fragile grounds and have imposed strict rules against entering the site. Before the pandemic shut down, visitors were only allowed to look at the lines and figures from airplanes and viewpoints.
However, riots broke out on the Nazca Lines, which were widely condemned.
In 2014, Greenpeace activists left shoe marks near a large hummingbird design when they posted a sign promoting renewable energy, Peruvian officials said.
“You go there and the footprint will take hundreds or thousands of years,” Luis Jaime Castillo, a Peruvian official and archaeologist, told The Guardian at the time. “And the line that they destroyed is the most visible and famous of them all.”
In 2018, a truck driver was arrested after deliberately driving his trailer truck over three geoglyph lines.
While Peru works to preserve its ancient sites, officials reopened Machu Picchu this month to a lucky tourist after being stranded during the pandemic and waiting seven months for the 16th-century Inca citadel.