Today would mark the 115th birthday of Maria Reiche, the German researcher who dedicated her life to studying and preserving Peru’s iconic Nasca Lines.
Google commemorated Reiche’s birthday with a Google Doodle and the following message on the legacy she left behind after five decades of protecting the-now UNESCO Wolrd Heritage artifacts drawn in the ground by ancient tribes:
Reiche was also devoted to the Lines’ protection. With only a household broom, she physically shielded the figures from people and vehicles, in addition to raising money for their overall preservation. Gradually, the “woman who swept the desert” became known worldwide as the “Lady of the Lines.”
Reiche’s immense dedication deeply endeared her to the people of Peru, so much that in 1992 she was granted Peruvian citizenship, and the Nazca airport is named after her. In 1995, UNESCO declared the Nazca Lines a World Heritage Site.
After being granted citizenship, Reiche passed away in 1998 at the age of 95. She had lived and worked in Peru for 65 years.
Reiche was quoted in her own obituary in The Independent as describing her incredible and surreal life. Before she was finally able to convince locals she was committing herself to protect the lines, they thought she was a crazed spy.
“I used to live on a flat roof or sleep out in a tent in the desert,” she said late in her life. “The locals either thought I was a spy or completely mad. Once a drunk threatened me with a stone, so I took out my sextant and pointed it at him. He ran off screaming, and the next day the local papers ran the story of a mad and armed German spy in their midst.”
Earlier this year, an unfortunate accident involving a truck driving off the side of the road led to some damage of the Nasca Lines off the South Pan-American highway.