University News

WIU Course: Fantastic Archaeology: Ancient Astronauts, Shape Shifters and Bigfoot

April 26, 2018

Share |
Printer friendly version

MACOMB, IL -- Over the weekend, Western Illinois University Associate Professor of Sociology and Anthropology Patricia Anderson and students from her Anthropology 215 Fantastic Archaeology course began and completed a replication of a Nazca hummingbird geoglyph between Currens and Thompson halls.

This is the second-year students in ANTH 215 have attempted to replicate a Nazca geoglyph. Last year, the Nazca condor was chosen, but the class only partially completed it. Anderson said this year's class had a competitive spirit, and considered it a challenge to finish the geoglyph.

The completed hummingbird is 83 meters long, while the original in Peru is 93 meters long, from the tip of the beak to the end of the longest tail feather.

Anderson said a few students began working at 7 a.m., but the majority of the class arrived about 9 a.m. Work ended shortly after noon. The hands-on project was a required part of participation in ANTH 215 Fantastic Archaeology for which students earned credit. However, students who could not participate, due to other obligations, were given the option of writing an essay about the Nazca culture.

Anderson said a baseline that ran the length of the hummingbird was first established, then perpendicular lines were placed to guide students as they placed markers along the projected outline. These markers were then connected by cord. Once these were in place, students took turns running two lime marker machines around the strings to outline the image of the bird in white in contrast to the green grass. Once the lime outline was established, the markers and cords were removed.

"The Nazca lines project really helped me to connect with the course and with my classmates," said senior English major Molly Cameron, of Ellisville, IL. "It was great to have the opportunity to work together to create something we learned about in class, and seeing the finished product from the drone was really satisfying. It was definitely a process of learning, and you can see in the geoglyph that we got better at it as we went along. Overall, I'm glad we had the opportunity for some practical application of the concepts from class, especially in such a fun way."

Anderson said a main objective of the course is to help students develop critical thinking skills to guide them in identifying biased interpretations of the human past which are based in pseudoscience, rather than based on reliable archaeological data.

"This hands-on activity was chosen to allow students to envision some of the challenges facing the Nazca people in creating the enormous geoglyphs that cover parts of the Nazca Plain in the Palpa region of Peru, South America," she said. "Also, it addressed the question of whether or not the Nazca people needed help from extraterrestrials, as has been suggest by pseudoarchaeologists, including Erich von Däniken, and others."

Students were asked to consider the published archaeological evidence discovered in association with the Nazca geoglyphs and determine what technologies the Nazca needed to create the symbols in the desert. It was concluded that the Nazca people were quite capable of making these large geoglyphs and that alternate explanations are often ethnocentric and racist, and not based on credible archaeological investigations.

Students also learned in their readings and lecture about the symbolic significance of the Nazca lines animals, which are also found in Nazca pottery and textiles. Archaeologists consider the symbols to relate to agricultural fertility and water, not extraterrestrials. Following Occam's Razor, this is a more logical conclusion for farmers living in a desert environment.

Drone coverage of the project was provided by Chad Sperry of the WIU GIS center. The work was carried out with a permit issued by the Assistant University Union Director Ashley Katz.

The lime outline of the hummingbird will fade after the next rain and will fertilize the grass, a fitting tribute to Earth Day weekend. 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

Posted By: University Communications (
Office of University Communications & Marketing