Giant 2,000-year-old figure of a cat discovered on a hillside in Peru

The etching, known as a geoglyph, was on the brink of disappearing before it was spotted via a drone

A giant 2,000-year-old figure of a cat has been discovered by a drone on a hillside in the Nazca desert in Peru.

The etching, known as a geoglyph, was on the brink of disappearing before the discovery close to the Nazca Lines World Heritage Site, the country's culture ministry said.

"The figure was barely visible and was about to disappear due to the effects of natural erosion as it's on a fairly steep slope," said the ministry.

A group of archaeologists took on the job of cleaning and preserving the geoglyph, which shows a cat with its body in profile but its head front on.

The lines making up its outline were mostly well defined and 12 to 15 inches (30 to 40 centimetres) wide.

Undated handout picture released by the Peruvian Ministry of Culture, showing a giant cat figure etched into a slope at the Unesco world heritage site in the desert near the town of Nasca in southern Peru, after its was discovered by archaeologists and the area was cleaned as the geoglyph was barely visible and about to disappear due to erosion. The geoglyph measures 37 metres from head to tail and forms part of the Nasca Lines — the hundreds of geoglyphs, including a hummingbird, a monkey and a pelican, carved into a coastal plain about 400 km south of Lima. According to a statement by the Peruvian ministry of culture, after cleaning the area the lines were found to measure between 30 and 40 cm in width. The Nazca Lines date back to between 500 BC and 500 AD, and cover an area of about 450 square km. They were given world heritage status in 1994. - RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / PERU'S CULTURE MINISTRY" - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
 / AFP / Peruvian Ministry of Culture / - / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / PERU'S CULTURE MINISTRY" - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

Experts say its stylistic features mean it is from the late Paracas period, more than 2,000 years ago, and older than the other famous Nazca figures such as the mockingbird, monkey and spider.

"Feline representations of this type are common in the iconography of ceramics and textiles of the Paracas society," said the ministry.

The people that formed the Nazca civilisation in that area of south-west Peru lived there from 200 to 700 AD, but the cat dates from 200 to 100 BC.

The Paracas culture lived in the area from 800 to100 BC and is believed to have been responsible for the Palpa Lines, which are similar to but less famous than the nearby Nazca ones.

The Nazca Lines, most of which are only visible from the sky, were made by people making incisions on the desert floor to leave different coloured dirt exposed.

They are made up of thousands of lines including geometric patterns, as well as the more famous animal figures.

The reason for their creation is unknown, but some theories include astrological and religious significance, as well as indicators of water sources.

The area, about 350 kilometres south of Peru's capital Lima, is a Unesco World Heritage site.