updated 1/19/2009 7:20:58 PM ET 2009-01-20T00:20:58

Heavy rains have damaged part of one of Peru's top tourist destinations, depositing clay and sand on mysterious figures etched in the desert sand by indigenous groups centuries ago, an archaeologist said Monday.

The rains, which are uncommon on Peru's dry coastal desert, washed off the nearby Panamerican highway and pushed sand on top of three fingers of a geoglyph in the famed Nazca lines, said Mario Olaechea of Peru's National Culture Institute. The fingers form part of a pair of hands.

Olaechea told The Associated Press that the damage is minor and the institute plans to clear the material and restore the geoglyph.

Nazca's dry and windless climate has preserved the lines for more than 1,000 years. Ancient cultures etched the lines and the shapes into the sand by clearing away rocks and small pebbles.

Fully visible only from the sky, the lines were added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 1994.

Archeologists have warned the lines are vulnerable to flooding. But Olaechea said it was the first known instance of rain damage.

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