The populated river valleys of the coastal area of Peru are separated by vas stretches of uninhabited dry, barren plateau, not far from the foothills of the Andes. One such region is situated between the oasis town of Nazca and Palpa on the south coast, above the valley of the "Rio Naza". Arid?... Barren? ... NO! For here, the ancient Nazca culture breathed life into the parched wasteland with incredible, indelible earthwork created across hundreds of square miles of the desert surface!
Their canvas called Pampa Coloradan (Red Plains) - a plateau 37 miles long and 15 miles wide. On it, they etched works of monumental proportion, a montage of geometric formations called "geoglyphics", a whimsical portrayals of animals, birds, and human forms.
Neither carved nor painted, those images represent artistry of another medium. By bearing away the dark rust-colored surface stones (accomplished by sweeping & brushing, or removing by hand or foot), and exposing the light colored sub-soil beneath, marvelous patterns were created in the contrasting soil. We see lines every where! thousands of crisscrossing, zigzagging radiating, oscillating, and parallel lines.
Ranging in widths from six inches to over six feet. Some extending as far as six miles. Some continuing & ever- straight and unbroken, over valleys and hills! And like the pages of a mathematicians notebook, trapezoids triangles, rectangles and quadrangles of all dimensions, unfold before us, from a yard or two in width, to several hundred yards wide; and in lengths stretching from 10 or 16 yards, to over half a mile!
Figures of fanciful birds - 18 different kinds create a veritable aviary in the mixed menagerie that prowls the pampa. To gain a sense of the enormity of scale picture a football field: The giant curly -tailed monkey would fill it! The long creeping lizard is twice the monkey's length. And the spider, small by comparison crawls about, in 150 feet of desert pavement. One of the largest creatures, a curious bird with a zig-zag neck, points a laky beak across 600 feet of desert scape! Other figures included a dog, plants, fish ....and two piles of rocks in the shape llamas! on steep hillsides, depictions of human figures keep their eternal vigil over the master work on the plain below.
How awesome was the task of the ancient landscapist! One can only wonder the formidable effort of removing the numberless tons of stones that delineate the patters see through the ages... and the care and skill to shape each line and curve with strict precision.
So arduous a process would have had to continue though hundreds of years, and would have taken one person, working steadily for an entire lifetime, to create the figure alone. The virtues of patience and fortitude must surely have characterized the Nazca people.
THE NAZCA CULTURE
Science has linked the works of the Nazca Lines to that span in the receptor of Peru called the "Early Inter-mediate Period", the era between 200 B.C. and 600A.D., when the Nazca civilization flourished.
The culture embraced the river valleys of Chincha, Pisco, Ica Nazca, and Acari on the south coast. The "sand painters" of the Nazca plain would have come from these oasis towns to artfully remove the rocks and stones that would create perfect pictures on nature's blackboard. Other artists of the time were the weavers and potters, who in that perfected their crafts to fine arts. Nazca pottery s famous for its vivid colors, symbolic motifs, and people shapes. Mineral based pigments endowed their colors with a lasting quality.
Superb textiles also exemplify Nazca creativity. Brilliant multicolored design were woven in tapestry or brocade. Patterns or motifs, barrowed from their pottery, were painted on plain cloth. And birds in flight, or anthropomorphic figures resembling those of the ground markings, reappear in vibrant textiles of wool of cotton.
"Trophy heads" (Not for the squeamish!) were frequent art themes, and relate to South American head hunting practices of the time. These rituals are presumed to have been associated with warfare, and to have had religious symbolism relating to fertility and reproduction.
Music played an important role in Nazca civilization, and may have been a component of religious ritual. Their highly decorative instruments consisted of pottery drum, rattles, trumpet-shaped horns, and pan pipes made of clay of cane.
THE MYSTERIES OF THE NAZCA LINES
Agriculture was the center of Nazca way of life, everything else seemed to flow from it. The Nazca lines them-selves may have been built for that purpose, if their use was intended for rituals to insure crop fertility... or to align with the stars to predict weather. Even the theory that animals in the geogllyphs were symbols of mythological god-protectors, of were linked to water, had an agricultural basis.
Life on the desert oasis meant knowing how to adapt to an unyielding environment, and hard work in extracting springs of life from it. These ancient Peruvians mastered the challenge.
Successful at irrigation, they improved their crops, extended cultivated areas, and built terraced pyramids. And during this era, they developed and perfected a new art form: Ground art... using the surface of the earth itself, to create wonderful work, which in this special environment, would be frozen in time.
The marking written on the vast plateau, above the valley of the Rio Nazca, are enduring monuments to the creative ingenuity of the ancients who lived in this place at the time.
They look like the markings of a prehistoric Einstein, on the biggest "natural black board" in the world! What are these doodles on the desert? Is there meaning in the maze? Was there a plan... a purpose to that enormous sweep of swirls and spirals and geometric shapes? and what of those goliath creatures on the pampa, seen only from the air: Why are they there? Is this some ancient puzzle on the Nazca plain? Or but a riddle, written in the sands of time to be forever studied and decoded, decipherer and unraveled? Will ever be un-riddled?
The enigma of the Nazca lines has been called on of the most baffling in all archaeology, its story is shrouded in myth and mystery. And the questions are endless. But clearly, the facts and fantasies surrounding the Nazca phenomenon are almost as fascinating to ponder as the spectacular desert drawings themselves.
Who created them? When and for what purpose? The origins have been probed by historians, geographers, archaeologists astronomers, mathematicians, anthropologists, ethnographers and photographers - ever since the marking first came to light over fifty years ago.
Thanks to their studies, two of secrets the ones relating to "who" and "when" have been unlocked. So similar tot he animal drawings were the stylized pottery figures found at nearby burial site, it was clear the two were linked in time to the major period of Nazca civilization: 200 B.C. to 600 A.D.
Some of the more primitive figures on mountain slopes are attributed to the earlier Paracas culture, dating as far back as 900 B.C. Mystery: How could marking etched upon the desert some 1500-2000 years ago remain virtually intact - undisturbed by time and weather? The geology of the area solves the riddle. Stones (not sand) compromise the desert surface. Rusted by humidity: their darkened color in-creases heat absorption. The resulting cushion of warm surfaces air acts as buffer against the wind; while minerals in the soil help to solidify the stones, On the "desert pavement: thus created in this dry, rainless environment, erosion is practically nil - making for remarkable preservation of the marking.
News of the enigmatic Nazca lines became public knowledge in the lat 1930's, at about the same time that air arrival had begun opening new horizons to people everywhere. The awesome aerial view that beckoned beyond his particular horizons capture the imagination of writers scholars and tourists alike. Early passenger called them prehistoric landing fields, or compared them to Martian canals. In the 1960, author Eric Von Daniken hypothesized that, in remote times, ancient astronauts visited the earth; and the giant figures on the Nazca plain were meant as signals for the space travelers, as they touched down on 37-mile long airfield!
The idea that the incredible drawings were for work of beings from outer space and could not have been made without aerial instructions. - appealed to those who couldn't imagine such creation as products of an ancient civilization. Besides, the extra terrestrial must have made the lines:
There were the only ones who could view them from their spaceships, on high. why , indeed, would the Peruvians have drawn shapes of such enormous dimension - when they themselves could never see them form the grounds?
But observers of world cultures had another option. They remind us that the importance of arts is in the act of doing, itself; not in the viewing. And that the social act of creating - of being brought together for the purpose of building wonderful works of art on the landscape was important to the people of the Nazca valley.
Not surprisingly, the astronaut theory was never substantiated. But a ceramic oddly discovered from the vicus culture - closely resembling a space suited figure exhibits a striking feature: The face of the figure is seen behind a "widowed" helmet... strangely like the astronaut gear we know today. (Myth...or mystery?)
Some of the lesser known, but nonetheless colorful theories conceived the lines as ancient race tracks... as a map of the Titicaca region... or as places where textile weavers could carefully lay out their threads.
One experiment attempted to support the belief that the hot air balloon was actually invented by Peruvians, to provide the aerial perspective required for construction of the drawings. The gigantic scale of the drawings was yet another mystery: How did the desert draftsman have the technology to transfer forms from one scale to another sometimes drawing giant shapes or figures, sometimes smaller ones and always perfectly proportioned? Research reveals that just as the early textile weavers cremated their fabulous design within a grid, so too could the desert artists do the same. Just by increasing the number of counts in the grid, they had the basics with which to enlarge their designs proportionately. And as to their precision straight trapezoids and triangles, this could be accomplished with the use of simple devices with which very straight lines can be laid out on a surface.
When first discovered, the tracking were thought to be shallow irrigation ditches. Serious study of the phenomenon began in 1,939, when anthropologist Paul Kosok speculated that the lines could be ancient astronomical sight lines. Mathematician astronomer Maria Reich embraced this notion in the early 1940's and may still be seen gathering date on the pampa -documenting the theory that the lines are linked to an ancient calendar and correlate the movements of stars with seasonal and weather changes. Such information would has served as type of weather forecast for desert farmers to plant and harvest (a practice still in use by Andean farmers today).
Is there a single answer to puzzle of the Nazca lines? Or did they serve many functions? What do you think? Do you favor the scholarly interpretations? Or do you fancy the E.T. theory that other beings must have supervised construction?
One thing is clear: As monuments left though out time prove the marvels achieved by all cultures...so, too, do the Nazca lines reflect the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the native Indians of Peru's southern coast.