Intaglios are gigantic human, animal and geometric figures on the ground surface. Intaglios are known from the American Southwest, South America and New Caledonia. There are over 300 intaglios in the American Southwest and adjacent Mexico. The best known of these are the Blythe Intaglios, located west of the Colorado River about 15 miles north of Blythe, California. The ground drawings are situated on two low mesas or terraces. There are six figures in three locations
Centuries ago Indians living in the Great Colorado River Valley created gigantic figures the grounds surface for reasons unknown to modem man. The figures are known to archaeologist as "Intaglios" (In tar yoe), an Italian term which refers to an engraving act process.
This type of antiquity is very uncommon worldwide. The Intaglios known to exist In this continent are In the desert southwest and most of those are near the Colorado River. The best known site, the Blythe Intaglios, is located approximately 15 miles north of Blythe, California.
The site is situated on two mesas. There are a total of six distinct figures In three locations. There Is a man-like figure at each of the locations and an animal figure at two locations. The largest man-like figure measures 171 feet from head to toe. The animal Is variously Interpreted as a horse or mountain lion. Aerial views provide the best visual perspective.
The Blythe Intaglios were discovered In 1931 by an airplane pilot, but their dates of origin, purpose, meaning, and who created them remains a mystery. They could be more than 1,000 years, but they are probably 200 years old. They could have been made by Mohave Indians; however, present day Mohave; however disclaim any knowledge of their origin.
The dark gravel formation on the desert mesas Is called "desert pavement". Few plants cover the ground in this harsh desert environment The fine soil particles have been washed and blown away over the centuries, leaving the larger rocks and pebbles concentrated on the surface. Trails, artifacts, Intaglios are among the most delicate of all. Volunteer groups have assisted in the construction of protective fencing.
They’re one of the few unsolved mysteries of modern archeology -pieces of history preserved in the desert on a mesa of the Big Maria Mountains north of Blythe. And most recently, they have been added to the National Register of Historic Places. Scientifically, they bear the name anthropomorphic geoglyphics. They have been more commonly called the Giants and are better known to locals as the Intaglios.
The geoglyphics vary in form, style and size with the largest figure in the Blythe area, a man over 171 feet long, thought to be a giant hunter, being constructed like the other figures in the area through the removal of a surface layer of darkened rock, exposing a lighter soil underneath.
The Intaglio sites are generally located along the Colorado River flood plain, but also found in San Bernardino and Imperial Counties. Many specific locations are not identified to discourage vandalism.
The figures were fashioned by Indians possibly thousands of years ago, but their cultural significance is uncertain. Various Indians such as the Mohaves, Aims, Halchidomas, Quechans and Maricopas inhabited the area, but no concrete evidence linking the figures to any particular group has been discovered, even after recent investigations by archaeologists from the National Register and Native American Heritage Commission.
A variety of theories surround the origin and significance of the giant desert figures, which are best seen by air, and were first discovered in 1930. Theories include religious lore and cultural expressions from the Indians, territorial markers or astronomical graphics. But one author uses the giant figures, found nowhere else on the continent, as evidence for his theory that primitive man was at one time visited by highly intelligent beings from outer space. Eric Von Danagen, in his A Chariot of the Gods and the movies that followed its release during the early 1970's, theorized that man was visited while the planet was relatively young and homo-sapiens were primitive.
He claims that the giant desert figures can be seen only from the air where the original calculations for the proportioned geoglyphics were made and given to the Indians below who followed the instructions in carving out the figures, scraping as deep as six inches into the rocky desert floor. He added that the figures can be seen from the ground, but make sense only when viewed from the air, and were possibly some sort of landing guide for the extraterrestrial visitors.
Most Intaglios were made by scraping the darkened rock on the desert floor to reveal a tan- colored soil beneath and have weathered thousands of years of rain, wind, scorching desert sun, and most recently, off-road vehicles. The longest figure in the Blythe Intaglios is nearly 171 feet long and the only other similar figures in the desert have been found at Nazca, Peru, also mentioned in Von Danagen’s book.
Only recently the giant desert figures, a favorite visiting spot for winter visitors and travelers on US 95, have been named to the National Register of Historic Places in Washington D.C., after a lengthy qualification process which began in 1978.
The nomination of the figures represented a digression from tradition in that most places on the National Register are building, are whose locations are fairly well known. Experts on the survey concluded that some of the figures may be Prehistoric, while others were done after the Spanish introduced the horse to the area.
A portion of the land where the figures are located is privately owned, but the figures north of Blythe are on BLM land and fall under Federal Protection. Visitors will find a graded dirt road that winds up to the top of the mesa and two fenced areas containing two of the Giant Drawings, a man and four-legged animal with what appears to be a snake at its feet.
While most visitors agree the figures are probably more striking when viewed from the air. See the article Geoglyphs of the SW Desert for more information and photographs.
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