Nazca is a regional district of Peru some 200 miles south of Lima on the Pacific coast. In the Peruvian desert there lies an extensive plain between the Inca and Nazca valleys. Nazca is the name usually associated with the system of geological river valleys running from the Andes to the sea although there is the city of Nazca, which is the region’s largest extant population centre.
The Ancient Nazca Culture
Nazca has also come to mean the cultural group or even the civilisation that flourished in this Peruvian district for about 1100 years from 300 BC to AD 800. It was during this period that the famous Nazca Lines were constructed along with impressive subterranean aqueducts that are still used today for the conveyance of water.
Discovering the Lines
Criss-crossed all over the 37 mile long plain at Nazca are an assortment of geometrically straight lines, some running parallel, others crossing over and intersecting other lines. This outstanding geometric ground form remained undiscovered until the early 1930s when it was noticed by the first aerial flights over the area during aerial survey work to locate water sources.
The Nazca lines are an attractive and amazing feature. Not only are there perfectly straight lines criss-crossing all over the plain like giant, elaborate, airport landing runways, but there are trapezoidal zones, pictures and animals, such as birds and beasts, as well as indistinguishable symbols.
The remarkable aspect of these creations of the Nazca culture is that they can only be recognised from high in the air. For more than one thousand years since the Nazca people ceased their cultural ways the desert plain has been walked over from north to south by its inhabitants yet the secrets of the lines and symbols have all remained silently underfoot, unnoticed from ground level.
These large drawings on the surface of the earth are known as geoglyphs but they make no sense at all to those who view them from the ground. Aerial archaeology, involving aerial photography and mapping, has brought the recognition of several kinds of animal figures – monkeys, birds, fish – even a whale, as well as insect forms such as spiders and a variety of plants. Aerial observation has shown that the lines continue along the ground for more than 800 miles.
What Was Their Purpose?
The science fiction writer, Erich von Daniken suggested that they were landing strips for alien spacecraft. However, the geology of the desert floor cannot support this theory, as it is simple soft earth unable to accept the fast moving weight of any sizeable aircraft.
Like so many unusual structures of antiquity they are often attributed as being astronomically significant. However, an American astronomer, Gerald Hawkins, debunked this theory by using computer probability analysis to see if the lines matched any ancient astronomical event or coincided with major celestial elements. His conclusions found that the lines demonstrated no distinct patterning to the cosmos.
Using experimental archaeology the British explorer, Tony Morrison, observed that the old folk customs of the Andes Mountain people demonstrated an unusual and pertinent tradition. His research discovered that the mountain people would travel from shrine to shrine in direct straight paths praying as they walked. A straight, direct path, similar to the patterns found at Nazca, linked each shrine, which could be nothing more than a carefully grouped pile of stones or more elaborate structures. Morrison has concluded that the Nazca lines could have been used during religious or ceremonial occasions.
A Community Project
The Nazca lines and the animal, insect, and human geoglyphs formed in the red soils of the Pampa Colorada is a project that required a great number of people, although not necessarily highly trained, as the work could be undertaken using simple tools. However, the extent of the project is such that there can be little doubt as to it being a communal undertaking and possibly took many years to achieve.
No one will really know if this magnificent site was the religious ‘Jerusalem’ of the Nazca. It has become an important archaeological discovery that is shared with thousands of visitors annually. The best view of archaeological Nazca is still from far above the site in an aeroplane.