The lines were begun over 2,500 years ago, and the Nazca people probably continued to etch them for hundreds of years. However, modern knowledge of the lines only emerged in 1926 with the first flights over the area by Mejía Jespe. The fact that the lines could only be seen and appreciated from the air has led to many theories, some of which can at best be described as very wild.
One of the stranger theories, discarded by most scientists (although it still has its proponents!), is Erich von Daniken's landing strip for aliens, which he details in his book Chariots of the Gods. Another theory, largely discredited, is that the ancient Nazca people built hot-air balloons from which to view the lines. In the 1980s there was even an experiment to test this theory, which resulted in a balloon quickly returning to earth. Many of these theories are based on the fact that it would have been impossible for the Nazca people to draw giant shapes that they were not able to see themselves. This, of course, is nonsense, and even a basic grasp of geometry would be sufficient to create intricate patterns hundreds of metres in size. Nevertheless, there are suggestions that the Nazca people had moveable wooden viewing platforms from which they would have been able to appreciate the figures.
It is not generally known that manned balloon flights were recorded in Brazil as early as 1709, when Bartolomeu de Gusmao made his first flight on August 8.
Jim Woodman has actually tested his theory in collaboration with balloonist Julian Nott. They constructed a balloon using the same materials as those available to the ancient Nazcans. The envelope used cotton fabric similar to that in the gravesites; the basket for pilot and co-pilot was woven from native fibers. On November 28, 1975, Woodman and Nott actually flew their balloon (named Condor I) over the Nazca plains.
However, this impressive demonstration hardly settles the mystery of Nazca, since it is not plausible that the Nazcans would have spent centuries constructing these markings for the benefit of occasional balloonists to view from the air. Validation of the theory would require evidence of a religious and cultural milieu in which such balloonists had maintained an elite status for hundreds of years, and it is hardly likely that such balloons would have vanished without a trace.
In recent years, the professional skeptic Joe Nickell has demonstrated that the drawings would not have been hard to accomplish with only the tools available to the ancient Nazca. Nickell has also shown that although the size of the figures suggests they were intended primarily for the enjoyment of the gods, the drawings can be appreciated from the ground as well.
The general consensus of archaeologists, anthropologists and scientists is that the Nazca Lines were created by the Nazca people themselves, without help from celestial visitors or aerial views. The figures drawn in the desert correspond with images found in other examples of Nazca art, such as pottery.