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WIU Anthropology Students Create Geoglyph on Campus

April 18, 2019

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MACOMB, IL – Saturday, April 6, students in Associate Professor Patricia Anderson's Fantastic Archaeology: Ancient Astronauts, Shape Shifters and Bigfoot class at Western Illinois University participated in recreating the Nazca spider geoglyph.

The geoglyph, created on the lawn north of Currens Hall, took six hours to complete. The project is an example of "experimental archaeology," where archaeologists try to recreate things using past technologies.

Twelve of the 22 students registered for the class participated in the project. Anderson and her students, along with volunteers A.J. Smith, of Quincy, and Steve Monger, of Macomb, used 300 pounds of line to outline the spider's boundaries, which measured 78 meters by 45 meters. Students worked from an outlined reproduction of the original design, copied on to graph paper.

"The class geoglyph project was an enlightening experience, taking concepts from the classroom to a hands-on level," said senior biology major Josie Pasch, of Forreston, IL. "Dr. Anderson's passion had a contagious impact while creating the Nazca spider. It was a wonderful learning opportunity that not many classes offer."

Students received credit toward their course grade for participation. Students who were unable to attend were given an alternative graded, written assignment.

"It was a product of teamwork, patience and the acceptance that it wasn't going to be perfect," said senior anthropology and computer science double major Lyndisty Littell, of Bloomington, IL. "But it gave us a chance to experience the past in a way that may have been otherwise unavailable. Though separated by time and methodology, maybe for just a couple of hours, we had a shared experience across time."

Anderson said the purpose of introducing students to this process was to challenge them to determine what the Nazca people of Peru needed to know to make the impressive creations and to work together as a team, using similar strategies employed by the Nazca people.

"The purpose of the course is to help students develop critical thinking skills, to learn about basic archaeological methods and theory, and to differentiate between 'fantastic' versus scientific archaeology, and thus recognize ethnocentric and racist misinterpretations of the human past that are based on speculation," said Anderson.

At the conclusion of the project, one of the class members, senior anthropology and sociology double major Rebecca McCollum, from Quincy, IL, operated a drone owned by Assistant Professor Andrea Alveshere, of the WIU Department of Sociology and Anthropology, to take oblique views and make a video of the project.

"The geoglyph project brings into perspective how the Nazca Lines could have been done by humans for humans, and not for the fanciful claims your TV programs might have you believe," said senior anthropology major Lara Patton, of Macomb.

Anthropology 215 Fantastic Archaeology: Ancient Astronauts, Shape Shifters, and Bigfoot, is available for General Education credit (Social Sciences), and is offered every spring at WIU, on the Macomb campus. For more information on the course, contact Anderson at

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