Sunday, July 16, 2006

The Nazca Lines in Peru

Nazca Lines Background
Written by Enrique Levano Alarcon.

The Discovery of the Nazca Culture

The history of the Nazca Culture began when in the 1890’s a German Archaeologist named Max Uhle receive an array of ceramics while working at the Anthropologisch-Ethnografische Museum in Dresden. Among the ceramic he received, there were many that came from South America, but among the vessel, there were some beautiful and colourful examples that drew his attention. The vessels he saw where so different to the others he had examined, so when he asked for the exact archaeological location where the ceramics came from, he received as an answer that those beautiful ceramics came from Peru, without giving him their exact location of the city where the pieces were uncovered. The Nazca ceramics he had analyzed were so beautiful, that he decided to travel to Peru in search of the place of origin of these ceramics. It was in 1901 that Max Uhle came to Peru, and after month of searching he arrived to the Valley of Ica, exactly at a place called Ocucaje, where thanks to old farmers who knew about the ancient cemeteries where these colourful ceramics were frequently found, took Max Uhle to discover the place. It was this way Max Uhle made a series of excavations and discovered the Nazca ceramics at many archaeological sites, starting to classify them and also making them known around the world.

The Ancient Nazca People

The Nazca culture had as its main capital the Ceremonial City of Cahuachi, an ancient pilgrimage centre that is located some 28 kms southwest of the modern city of Nazca. According to the archaeologists the Nazca culture thrived between 500 BC, till around 600 AD, and their cultural influence spread from Cañete in the north till Acari in the south, covering am area of almost 600 kms, being its capital the Ceremonial Centre of Cahuachi. It is believed that the Nazca people chose the lower section of the Nazca Valley to build Cahuachi, due to the abundance of water coming from underground, sort of natural springs that allowed them to irrigate their fields and produce essential crops for life.
The Nazca culture is credited to have made the famous Nazca Lines, as the evidences abound. Most of the animal figures and other designs that were etched onto the desert surface are repeatedly seen also on the pottery and textile iconography they left behind under their necropolis found around the desert and mainly at the archaeological site of Cahuachi. At the very desert archaeologist also have discovered hundreds of pottery fragments that suggest the Nazca people gathered at the desert to carry out religious ceremonies and it is very likely that after a ceremony they smashed the pots as an offering to the gods, which they believed where above in the sky. The fragments found on the figures were mainly pieces of panpipes and whistles, whish suggest that music, along with dances were involve in their religious ceremonies.
On the Nazca desert has been recorded the presence of over 300 hundreds figures and over 10,000 lines, covering a huge area of 525 kms, according to archaeologists and scholars. Italian archaeologist Giuseppe Orefeci believes the Nazca people lived for over 800 years at the ceremonial centre of Cahuachi (500 BC – 350 AD), and it began to decline due to certain natural disasters that took place around 350 AD. Dr. Giuseppe Orefeci says that during this time there were changes in the climate and there was a big phenomenon (El Niño, which means The child, it was called like this because used to occur around Christmas time, when the child Jesus was born) that originated a great flood that rubbished a big portion of the Nazca valley, including the ceremonial centre of the Nazca people Cahuachi. He says that after this natural disaster it is very likely that the Nazca people began to reconstruct their city refusing to abandon it due to its great religious importance, but some years later the Nazca region was hardly damage by a huge earthquake that split their city in two. The evidences were found at the various excavations that Giuseppe Orefeci has been carrying out during the last 20 years at the site. Many human bodies were found under the fallen walls, which proof that many people were killed and the city was utterly turned into ruins. It was around 400 AD, that the Nazca people abandoned Cahuachi and moved out to the upper section of the valley, where lies the modern Nazca city today. It was at this time that the great under ground channels of the Nazca culture were built.

Nazca Channels or Puquios

In addition to the Nazca geoglyphs, as they are archaeologically called, it is also important to mention their great achievements in hydraulic enginery. The famous underground channels of Nazca, locally known as Puquios (a Quechua word to describe a natural spring), are one of the greatest legacy also left behind by the Nazca Culture, this unique underground system is unique in South America and perhaps in the whole world, as their construction are very intricate. The Nazca culture built over 50 underground channels in the Nazca region between the years 400 AD till around 500 AD, and many of them are still in use by the local communities in the Nazca Valley. Without doubt, one of the best preserve channels are those located at the zone of Cantalloc or CANTAYO, as it is also called. On this area visitors can see a series of blow holes shaped in a spiral form, which probably served to clean their inner part periodically, and also to restore them in case of tremors or earthquakes.

Nazca Ceramic

Long before the Nazca Lines were discovered, the Nazca Culture was already known by many, thanks to the colourful ceramics that were found at the many cemeteries located along the banks of the Nazca River. The peculiarity of these vessels is that they show in a very realistic way the ancient world of the Nazca men, showing mainly their everyday life, animals, plants, birds, and gods, stylized creatures, including zoomorphic and anthropomorphic designs that sometimes reach more than ten colours in just one vessel. The best examples of these Nazca ceramics can be seen today in museums in Lima, such as the Anthropological and Archaeological Museum in Lima, The Regional Museum of Ica, and many others in Peru and around the world.

Nazca Textiles

The Nazca people believed strongly in a life after death, this belief drew them to mummified their corpses and wrap them with finest textiles, which after 2000 years still today show, quality and colours, as if they were woven yesterday. In the Nazca times, like in many other pre-Inca civilizations the textiles seemed to have play an important role, in the case of Nazca, their textiles were made with fine art and also great skill, using cotton and fibre of Andean camels. The Nazca culture considered their textiles to be an important element within the society, and on especial burials, the corpse had to be wrapping with these beautiful pieces of art with the aim of accompany the dead in the after life. The Nazca textiles were created with a high technological and intellectual point of view and were very sophisticated.
At the archaeological site of Cahcuachi, Italian archaeologist Giuseppe Orefeci has uncovered many textiles in very good conditions, which are currently display at the Antonini Museum in Nazca.

Discovery of the Nazca Lines

The Nazca Lines were first spotted when one of the first Peruvian airlines called Faucette, started to fly from Lima to Arequipa in the 1920’s. Pilots who flew over this area had noticed that between the valleys of Palpa and Nazca there were many lines crisscrossing the desert in all directions, this great news were shown at the local papers in Lima, and soon arose the interest of some people. In 1926, came to Nazca the archaeologists Toribio Mejia Xesspe, drawn by the reports of strange lines at the desert. He made some researches at the Nazca zone, getting simply to the conclusion that the Lines were part of ancient sacred roads. Xesspe never flew over the area, so he never got to see the figures on the desert, but only some straight lines. It was not until 1939 that came to Peru the American professor Paul Kosock, from Long Island University, who discovered the Nazca Lines properly. Paul Kosock was drawn by reports of ancient irrigation systems located in the Nazca Valley (the Puquios or aqueducts), in Nazca he made some surveys of the Nazca channels recording at that time over 50 underground aqueducts still in used by the local communities. One day he was told that at the Nazca desert, there were also other ancient channels, even older of those he had already seen. Thus, he went to the Nazca desert, and found only long shallows furrows. He thought that perhaps these ancient channels were located very far away, so he hired one of the small airplanes the farmers used on those days to fumigate their fields in the Nazca valley. Once he took off and started to fly over the desert, he was amazed by hundreds of lines and geometrical forms lying down below. In one of his comments he said that he ordered the pilot to follow one particular line to see where it finished, but the surprise was even bigger when he suddenly found himself flying over a huge design of a bird. It was this way the Nazca Lines were discovered, some years later Paul Kosock would meet Maria Reiche who followed Kosock’s investigations.

Written by: Enrique Levano Alarcon.