updated 2/28/2005 7:32:49 PM ET 2005-03-01T00:32:49

Archaeologists have discovered a group of giant figures scraped into the hills of Peru's southern coastal desert that are believed to predate the country's famed Nazca lines.

About 50 figures were etched into the earth over an area roughly 90 square miles near the city of Palpa, 220 miles southeast of Lima, El Comercio newspaper reported.

The drawings -- which include human figures as well as animals such as birds, monkeys, and felines _ are believed to be created by members of the Paracas culture sometime between 600 and 100 B.C., Johny Islas, the director of the Andean Institute of Archaeological Studies, told the newspaper.

One prominent figure appears to represent a deity commonly depicted on textiles and ceramics from the period, Islas said.

The recently discovered designs predate the country's famous Nazca lines, which have mystified scientists and were added to the United Nation's Cultural Heritage list in 1994.

The Nazca lines -- which also include pictographs of various animals -- cover a 35-mile stretch of desert some 250 miles south of Lima and are one of Peru's top tourist attractions. The Nazca culture flourished between 50 B.C. and 600 A.D., Islas said.

The lines, thousands of them in all, were made by clearing darker rocks on the desert surface to expose lighter soil underneath.

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