Introducing the Nasca people
The Nasca people used to live throughout the Rio Grande drainage area in Peru (Mujica and Isla, 1996). Habitation sites accompanied by geoglyphs are found throughout this area (Llanos Jacinto, 2010). Their culture thrived in pre-Hispanic times (200 BC – 650 AD). Their legacy includes the world famous geoglyphs, high quality textiles and polychrome pottery, irrigation works and the largest structure built in adobe in the Americas.
Slide 2. Where? – Where are the geoglyphs to be found! The Nasca civilization existed in essence in the Rio Grande basin in southern Peru.
Slide 3. When? – The Nasca civilization flourished between circa 200 BC and 650 AD, and had its roots in the Paracas culture. It ended with the arrival in the area of peoples from the Wari culture.
Slide 4. What? – Legacy of the Nasca Civilization. – What is so special about the Nasca culture? The Nasca people etched geoglyphs on an amazing scale in the surface layer of the pampas in the Rio Grande Drainage Area. Maria Reiche (1903 -1998) dedicated her life to the study of the geoglyphs.
Slide5. What? – The Nasca people are also known for the manufacture of high quality polychrome pottery (Proulx, 2006; many others).
Slide 6. What? – In addition, the Nasca produced high quality textiles (Paul, 2007).
Slide 7. What4? – The Nasca People constructed an elaborate irrigation system, which is still in operation today (Schreiber and Rojas, 1995).
Slide8. What4? – Areal view of irrigation works, Puquio Orcona.
Slide9. What5? – The Nasca built an extensive temple complex in adobe, Cahuachi.
Slide10. Nasca Habitation Sites after Llanos Jacinto (2010)
Slide11. Main Nasca Habitation Sites on a ‘Google Earth’ image.
Slide12. Reconstruction of a small Nasca village.
Nasca Civilization - their culture in ceramics
The Nasca Indians formed an illiterate society, thus they did not leave a written testimony describing their way of life. Still we have a reasonable good picture of their civilization largely derived from imaginary on pottery and textiles supported by the results of multidisciplinary studies. A summary can be found in Proulx (2007). Nasca subsistence was based essentially on agriculture and livestock-breeding (in addition to hunting and gathering). Their diet was completed by the hunt for sea mammals, fishing and collecting other marine products.
Slide13. The Nasca earned their livelihood with farming, fishing, hunting and herding.
Slide14. The military was mainly involved in secular warfare with culturally related groups. The deceased warriors were decapitated to meet the need for trophy heads in religious rituals.
Slide15. Religious practices played a dominant role in the Nazca society.
Slide16. The deceased were buried in textile bundles together with grave goods and trophy heads to secure a good afterlife. The bodies were mummified due to the extremely dry climate.
Nasca Civilization - Religion.
Little is known about Nasca religion. However, it is likely that common traits existed in the belief systems of the various Andean peoples. Thus, by analogy with better known Indian animistic beliefs like those of the peoples in the Titicaca basin (Smith, 2011) or the Incas (Time-Life Books, 1993), the Nasca people believed that anything in the world both animate and inanimate had a spiritual counterpart in the supernatural world. An immense rock for example could represent a powerful spirit, which required veneration. Such locations were called Huacas by the Incas. The Anthropomorphic Mythical Beings (AMB’s) depicted on Nasca textiles and pottery (Proulx, 2007; Clados, 2001) likely symbolise the important spiritual forces in nature, and clearly demonstrate that the Nasca held similar beliefs.
The ancient peoples of the Andes believed that the souls of the dead went to reside in sacred mountains. These mountains are home to the deities who are the lords of wildlife and guardians of livestock and man alike; they control the fertility of crops and animals. Most importantly, the mountain deities were perceived to control the weather.
Slide17. Nasca iconography is dominated by images of (Anthropomorphic) Mythical Beings (AMB’s). They are in general presented in a flying posture.
Slide18. Nasca beliefs are animistic. Animism is the belief that all beings and things in nature have spirits and can interact with human events. Thus, animals, insects, rocks, thunder, heavenly bodies all have spiritual power and are visualized by Anthropomorphic Mythical Beings. The mythical beings thus represent the various spiritual forces.
Slide19. The spirit world or supernatural world is a mirror image of the natural world. The Nasca present the supernatural world to be in chaos, probably reflecting the struggle for life under the harsh living conditions in the desert of Southern Peru. Apparently spirits could be appeased with trophy heads.
Slide20. The survival strategy of the Nasca included the appeal for help from the spirit world for which the Nasca had to sacrifice human souls and other gifts. For instance, for taking the life (soul) of an animal during a hunt the Nasca thanked the governing spirit of those animals by offering a Nasca soul in return. The human soul resided in the head; thus they collected trophy heads.
Slide21. The shaman or priest sacrificed (a) trophy-head(s) during their rituals to invoke the help of the spirits. Such rituals or prayers could be for rain, or a good harvest, or a blessing for a good hunt, health, anything of importance in the daily lives of the Nasca.
Slide22. Isotope studies show that the Nasca derived trophy heads from the local Nasca population probably during secular war fair / fights for scarce resources with clans living in neighbouring valleys.
Slide23. Nasca religion is essentially a fertility cult which centred on the mountains (source of the Rio Grande), water and the renewal of life. In this context the serpent plays a central symbolic role in nearly all Andean cultures.
Slide24. The great spirit, or supreme deity, or creator deity in later (pre-Columbian) Indian societies is Viracocha. In the background Viracocha is shown in bas-relief on the Sun Gate in Tiahuanaco in Chile. It may be that Viracocha also played this role in Nasca society as suggested by the discovery of a gold mask (Cartwright, 2014). It may be that the Nasca name for Viracocha is Illa-kata, considered to be the supreme deity of the Nasca.
Slide25. View from space of Cahuachi, the religious centre of the Nasca world. This temple complex was extensively studied by Silverman (1988), Lasaponara et al. (2016) and many others. It was severely damaged by natural disasters at the end of the Early Nasca phase and abandonned during the late Middel Nasca phase (Orefici, 2016).
Slide26. Google Earth view of the Rio Grande Drainage Basin with the names of the highest mountains in its source area. Note that Cahuachi is located on the connector between the mouth of the Rio Grande and Cerro Chuntayorco. Is this mountain the home of Illa-kata, the place of origin of the Nasca people? It is likely, that the constant presence of water, emerging in the valley below Cahuachi was of crucial importance in the choice of this location for a ceremonial centre (Orefici, 2016).
Slide27. Three mountains dominate the horizon for an observer in Cahuachi. They are mount Tunga, Cerro Blanco and a mountain here called 3065m. An unknown structure is visible at the top of 3065m. Is it a Nasca structure?
Slide28. Views from Cahuachi from a point just above the Gran Templo. Note that the high Atlas is not visible from this point. Cahuachi was built with its back to Mount Tunga and faces northeast-ward.
Slide29. Shamanistic rituals were dedicated to various aspects of Viracocha / Illa-kata, depending on requirements. The Killer Whale (Mount Tunga) represented the lord of the sea resources, the Mythical Serpent (Cerro Blanco) symbolised the lord of fresh waters (surface and subterranean) and the Cougar (feline deity, possibly mount 3065m?) represented the lord of the terrestrial resources.
Slide30. An unique geoglyph has been etched in the desert floor south of Cahuachi. It forms a meandering to zigzag type geoglyph on a very large scale. Such designs are often reserved for images of a serpent. The serpent symbolises water, the river, and the renewal of life. Cahuachi was likely dedicated to the Mythical Serpent.
What can we see of Nasca Life on satellite images (Google Earth)
Slide31. Most features mapped by archaeologists Aveni and Siverman (1991) are visible on Google Earth images.
Slide32. Little evidence can be seen for the existence of the sites investigated by Isla and Reindel (2005) in the Palpa area on a satellite image. LIP (Late Intermediate Period) sites postdate the Nasca civilization (see Slide3).
Slide33. Most features identified by Isla and Reindel (2005) around Early Nasca site 124 can be seen on a satellite image.
Slide34. Most ruins we see on satellite images are probably of Inca origin, Late Intermediate Period or later. La Muña is a Nasca location, however no remains appear visible except for the shades above the archaeological investigations.
Slide35. Site 220 is a large Nasca 1 site (Silverman, 2002); it is visible on satellite images, although little detail can be seen. The impact of the digging activities of grave robbers however is more than obvious. The photograph in the upper left corner is an air photograph, not a satellite image.
Geoglyphs: Constructing / Mapping Geoglyphs.
Geoglyphs are the main testimony of the Nasca culture on satellite images. The geoglyphs seem to have multiple functions: ritual pathways leading to sacred sites, lines connecting (sacred) locations, representations of major mythical beings or deities, and a map of subterranean water resources (Proulx, 2007). Moreover, a number of the geoglyphs are aligned along directions of the winter solstice and equinox sunsets. This leads us to consider also a possible astronomical and calendrical interpretation, one that relates the geoglyphs to a primarily ceremonial use. They were the scenarios and the venues of collective gatherings where events linked to an agriculture calendar were celebrated. At the same time, they served to strengthen social cohesion among various groups, sharing common ancestors and religious beliefs (Orofici, 2016).
With the exception of some investigations conducted by Silverman and Pineda in 1985 and some surveys carried out in the framework of the Proyecto Nasca between 1988 and 1989, there today is yet a lack of systematic research based on a detailed spatial and typological analysis of these geoglyphs (Orofici, 2016).
The objective of mapping the Nasca Geoglyphs with Google Earth therefore is to obtain such a detailed spatial and typological foundation for analysis of the Nasca Imagery in order to improve our understanding of their meaning or function.
Slide 36. Constructing / mapping Geoglyphs.
The mapping utilized the following legend.
Areal geoglyphs are mapped in transparent red, lineal and descriptive geoglyphs in white lines. Long straight lineal geoglyphs are for clarity sometimes shown in dark yellow, and meandering and zigzag geoglyphs in bright yellow. Nasca (figurative) drawings at the limit of image resolution are encircled in blue. Yellow stars mark convergent line centres. Dark purple dots represent stone heaps.
Modern structures like roads, tracks, power lines, etc. are when mapped, shown in green. Old roads and tracks are shown in purple. The age of these latter structures cannot be determined without fieldwork.
Slide37. The flat pampas in between the river valleys formed a huge Alluvial Drawing Table on which the Nasca people created most geoglyphs by putting aside the small oxidised dark coloured rocks on the surface as such revealing the lighter coloured sands beneath. The function of the geoglyphs has been much disputed; explanations include their use as ritual pathways, evidence of frequently repeated sacred social rites, a calendrical system, or indicators for sources of subterranean water (Proulx, 2001, and references therein).
Slide38. The alluvial drawing table is the result of alluvial intermittent floods which deposited over a large timespan a mixture of fine to coarse clastic sediments in an alluvial fan. Subsequent aeolian activity removed the fine fraction of the top layer, leaving the surface of the alluvial fan composed of coarse clastic rocks (for details see Delle Rose, 2016).
Slide39. Geological map of the area shown in slide 38. Note that the names of the rivers in the map differ from those used in this presentation. Rio Portachuelo is Rio Ica, Rio Uchuymarca is Rio Tierras Blancas (see Slide2).
Slide40. Legend to accompany the geological map.
Slide41. Google Earth image of the area covered by the geological map. Mapping Nasca Lines: Pitfalls
Not only the Nasca people have used the desert floor to articulate their artistic inspiration, but also modern people have left their mark, as such often obliterating the Nasca effort. In addition, various construction activities and cross-country motoring have caused much damage. Moreover, mother-nature left her clear impact on the geoglyphs through erosion by migrating alluvial channels and aeolian activity. All such interactions need to be taken into consideration in obtaining a reliable map of the geoglyphs.
Slide42. Modern activities have seriously damaged the Nasca lines. These activities include adverts and other drawings, and activities associated with the construction of infrastructural works like power lines and roads. The rubble cleared areas make easy driving, thus attracted much traffic. Also farmers have used such areas for various farm related activities. Finally, cross-country motoring disturbed, if not obliterated, many Nasca lines.
Slide43. Much damage to the Nasca lines was caused by erosion due to migrating alluvial channels. Often the lines are only preserved on small islands within the channel systems.
Slide44. Many lines on the plateaus are obscured by windblown (aeolian) deposits. Maria Reiche showed the way forward in solving this problem.
Slide45. Finally, geometric image resolution is obviously a limiting factor in recognising Nasca lines. Fortunately, Google Earth allows the user to scroll through the available historic images and select the images with the highest resolution. Do note, however, that shifts occur in geographic positioning of the individual image material when the various processing results of the data are compared.
Type of Geoglyphs
Geoglyphs come in many styles and shapes. Geoglyphs can be classified chronologically based on the analysis of associated findings through iconographic comparison with contemporaneous textiles and ceramics. It appears that they were made during a long period of time. The earliest geoglyphs were produced by the Paracas culture (800 – 200 B.C.). Most of the geoglyphs from the Nasca culture (200 B.C. – 650 A.D.) were made in the Early and Middle Nasca period (see slide3).
The geoglyphs from the Nasca Period were generally created on the flat plateaus (pampas) between the river valleys. Most of the geoglyphs are in the form of straight lines, crooked lines or have a geometric shape (Fux, 2011). Figurative drawings are always abstracted. They extend to hundreds of meters or even in the kilometres range.
They appear to have played a role in social and ritual activities. They were probably used as ritual walkways. Ceramic vessels were placed on them for ritual destruction. Such traces of activity in association with the geoglyphs cannot be documented for the Paracas geoglyphs.
The Paracas geoglyphs are generally much smaller (2m to 30 m), constructed on the slope of the river valleys or hills, and are generally well visible from the valley floor. The Paracas geoglyphs are almost exclusively figurative drawings predominantly in the form of humans or animals, and frequently plants or abstract shapes. The figures are often arranged in groups or alignments. In the case of anthropomorphic figures, the whole body is depicted in some cases, but often only the head is formed. The heads show nearly always a conspicuous headdress. Some human images hold objects in their hands (Fux, 2011).
The geoglyphs irrespective of age are classified geometrically in order to obtain a consistent typological foundation for interpretation.
Slide46. Geoglyph typology after Lamberts (2005).
Slide47. Google Earth images of some Lineal and Areal geoglyphs. Meandering and zigzag lineal geoglyphs are shown in yellow. Note this type of geoglyph is widespread.
Slide48. Google Earth images of trapezoidal geoglyphs. Note this type of geoglyph is widespread.
Slide49. Google Earth images of meandering lines. Note this type of geoglyph is widespread.
Slide50. Google Earth images of rectangular areal geoglyphs.
Slide51. Google Earth image of an example of an anthropomorphic geoglyph, the famous Oculate Being. It is also referred to as the Owl-man or astronaut. The resolution of the satellite image is barely sufficient to image the geoglyph. The photo of the Oculate Being was taken from a plane. The Oculate Being may have made by representatives of the Paracas culture.
Slide52. Google Earth image of examples of anthropomorphic and zoomorphic geoglyphs. The resolution of the satellite image is barely sufficient to image the geoglyph. The photographs are from various internet sources. It is proposed that these geoglyphs were made by the Paracas culture (Fux, 2011).
Slide53. Google Earth image of an example of a zoomorphic geoglyph, Mythical Killer whale. The resolution of the satellite image is barely sufficient to image the geoglyph. The photo was taken with the aid of a drone. Note the similarity with ceramic iconography.
Slide54. Air photographs of some very well-known zoomorphic geoglyphs made by the Nasca culture. The photographs are from various internet sources.
Slide55. Google Earth image of an example of a representational geoglyph, the Mandala. Air photograph was made by von Däniken (1997).
Slide56. Google Earth image of examples of very long straight line geoglyphs. Typically for Nasca lines are the line orientations not affected by changes in topography. The length of these lines is circa nine kilometres.
Slide57. Google Earth image of an example of zoomorphic geoglyphs made by the Paracas culture on Pampa Colorada. Note that the method of making these geoglyphs appears different than that of the adjacent Nasca line. The line was cleared of rubble, whilst it appears that the animal figures were made by heaping up rubble. The Photo may have been made by the Japanese mission.
Slide58. Google Earth image of descriptive geoglyphs on Pampa Colorada, which appear not to have been reported so far. With reference to definitions (Fux, 2011) these geoglyphs were probably created by the Paracas culture. Unknown geoglyphs of possibly Nasca and Paracas age can be observed in many areas.
Occurrence of Geoglyphs.
Slide59. Geoglyphs are the main testimony of the Nasca culture on satellite images. The geographical spread of these drawings can readily be appreciated on a Google Earth Image. The distance from Gramadal (in NW) to Codo (in SE) is circa 80 kilometres as the bird flies.
Slide60. Google Earth image of geoglyphs in the Rio Santa Cruz area and south of Codo. Note that pistes are traced in transparent red and lines in solid white. See slides 2, 59 for location.
Slide61. Google Earth image of geoglyphs in the Rio Grande north of Monte Grande, north of Pajonal, and south of Molino. See slides 2, 59 for location.
Slide62. Google Earth image of geoglyphs in the Estudiantes - El Ingenio district. See slides 2, 59 for location. Areas encircled in blue include probably zoomorphic geoglyphs at the edge of resolution.
Slide63. Google Earth image of geoglyphs in the Changuillo District. See slides 2, 59 for location.
Slide64. Google Earth image of geoglyphs in the Chillo - Palpa area. See slides 2, 59 for location.
Slide65. Google Earth image of geoglyphs in the Santa Cruz area. See slides 2, 59 for location.
Slide66. Google Earth image of geoglyphs located along the margin of Pampa Blanca. See slides 2, 59 for location.
Slide67. Google Earth image of geoglyphs on the main drawing table on and around Pampa Colorada. See slides 2, 59 for location.
Slide68. Google Earth image of geoglyphs on the banks of Rio Las Trancas. See slides 2, 59 for location.
Slide69. Google Earth image of geoglyphs on the banks of Rio Grande and between the Rio Grande and Mount Tunga. See slides 2, 59 for location.
Slide70. Scholars consider the reach of the Nasca culture during its maximum extent to have included the Ica Valley (Proulx, 1994). Typical Nasca geoglyphs however can only sparsely be observed in that area on satellite images. See slide 71 for location.
Slide71.Google Earth image of the Ica Province, Peru, showing the locations where geoglyphs can be observed.
Geoglyphs often appear to have been arranged in groups or occur in alignments. They even appear to have been used as building stones in large constructions. The Indians followed a few design principles, which resulted in a limited number of basic compositions.
Slide72. Many geoglyph designs are drawn with a “single continuous crooked line”. The design runs from a starting point to an elevated point. The arrows indicate the likely walking direction, if they were meant to be walked. Many of the famous zoomorphic geoglyphs (spider, monkey, etc.) were made following this principle.
Slide73. Simple fan composition in the Orcana Region at the base of Cerro Blanco. The design focuses on an elevated spot.
Slide74. Complex fan composition in the Changuillo District. The dominant element of the design focuses on an elevated spot. Various fans occur next to one and other. They all are directed towards Pampa de Jumana (see Slide59).
Slide75. Complex fan composition in the Estudiantes Region. Note that the triangular pistes that make up the fan all point up the drainage system.
Slide76. Elongated complex fan composition in Pampa Piedra Gorda (see Slide59). The fan extends for some 10 kilometres from base to tip. The fan points up the drainage system.
Slide77. An important geoglyph design is the Convergent Line Centre. They occur mainly on the Pampa Colorada, Pampa de Atarco and Pampa de Majuelos (see Slide59). Less significant Convergent Line Centres are locally found elsewhere.
Slide78. Another design is labelled here the Radiating Hilltop. The centre of the design is clearly formed by an elevated location, a hilltop. They often look very much like the Convergent Line centres.
Slide79. A further important design consists of straight lines which extend over large distances. They are unperturbed by topography. These very long straight lines apparently connect locations of importance to the Nasca people. The line between the points 1 and 2 is circa 11 kilometres long. It connects one of the main Convergent Lines Centres with the location of the Oculate Being. Note that the continuity of the line is severely disrupted by erosion.
Further Geoglyph Mapping Observations.
Slide80. Nasca straight lines are not perturbed by topography which distinguishes them from modern tracks, which reflect topographic irregularities.
Slide81. Many geoglyphs are accompanied by stone heaps. These heaps occur in predefined positions with respect to the geoglyph. Some appear to represent artificial observation points, but many of these stone heaps may represent gates. They occur throughout the area.
Slide82. The relationships between triangular, trapezoidal geoglyphs, stone heaps and straight lines, which connect important locations, suggests that these areal geoglyphs function as direction signs. Start at the base and pass through the gate at the tip and follow the line towards its destination.
Slide83. Spirals are generally drawn near the base of triangles or trapezoids. In addition, this area provides clear evidence that generations of drawings were drawn on top one and other. The inset highlights the superposition of an areal geoglyph on top an earlier bird design. Note that the drawing style of the bird is very different than the style of the other zoomorphic geoglyphs in this area.
Slide84. The triangles and trapezoids almost always point up the drainage system as do the composite fan patterns. The fan patterns do generally have no relationship with other patterns. These local patterns are probably dedicated to worship at local sacred sites (Huacas).
Slide85. Mandela’s only occur on Pampa de Jumana (see Slide59) and the nearby location shown in slide 55. The five Mandalas apparently have a local significance. Did the Mandelas form a logo of the tribes living in the San Juan area?
Slide86. Stylized warriors only occur on Pampa Piedra Gorda (see Slide59). Are they the signature of the people who created the associated geoglyphs? The warrior designs are suggested to be made during the Paracas culture (see Slide3), thus at an earlier date than most of the other geoglyphs.
Interpretation of the Nasca Geoglyphs.
The interpretation of the information obtained from the satellite images allow us only to speculate about the meaning and purpose of the geoglyphs, when interpreted independent from other lines of evidence. However, there is no knowledge without speculation. Thus the satellite images give us a means to formulate questions and concepts for further testing. A major problem in interpreting the relationship between geoglyphs is that they were made during a time span of some 1000 years. Thus assumed compositions could embrace components which were made at very different times, and therefore an assumed relation could be accidental and thus meaningless. However, one of the most long-lasting factors in human society is a religious belief system. It is very common that peoples will recognize, understand, maintain, and continue to build upon religious imagery of a thousand years old or more.
Slide87. An early interpretation of the Nasca lines by Maria Reiche and her predecessor suggests that the Nasca people used the geoglyphs as an observatory for astronomical phenomena, which had meaning in terms of an agricultural calendar. For instance some of the lines were oriented to the sunrise on the summer solstice in the Southern Hemisphere which was thought to herald the coming of the rainy season(see slide 110). It is obvious that many lines starting at convergent line centres (stars) have similar orientations, an explanation in a celestial context seems reasonable. The convergent line centre acted possibly as the calendar of a clan or family group, where the most important dates and main events in clan life were remembered; it possibly acted as a clan paqarina.
Slide88. Most researchers interpret the lines in a ceremonial, religious context. The long straight Nasca lines connect key locations and together could form a procession route for ritual activities. Starting at a possible place of origin (Paqarina) or Huaca continue in an easterly direction to the gate and turn left to the Oculate Being Huaca.
Slide89. The long straight lines form a pampa wide web with the Oculate Being in one of its centres. The construction of these geoglyphs must have required careful planning.
Slide90. The top of the Oculate Being hill provides a panorama of Pampa Colorada looking westward; eastward, looking upstream the rambla the view is dominated by a high hill(1). Opposite the hill points a directional geoglyph toward a trail leading over the water-divide towards the highest mountain (2110 m) in this region, the realm of the gods. Human made structures (vague indications) may be present at the top of this mountain, which could be used for sacred rituals. The Oculate Being may be the guardian of the realm of the gods and welcome petitioners / pilgrims with his raised hand!! The geoglyphs on Pampa Colorada form in essence one large open air temple complex!!
Slide91. The fan complex likely represents a local processional avenue for prayers to the spirits or gods. Note that the payer is directed to the top of the mountain, as such indicating the sacred nature of the mountain. The example shown is interpreted to represent a prayer for water.
Slide92. This large fan complex is also oriented upon the high mountains. It embraces the same elements as the other fan complexes with spirals near the base and zigzag patterns in the middle part (see slide 76 for overview).
Slide93. The tip of the lower part of the fan complex of Slide 92 ends on a balcony with a view on a sacred bird, a messenger bird of the gods, combined with directional geoglyphs indicating where the message will be delivered. Sadly, parts of the composition are below resolution of the image.
Slide94. East of Chillo occurs a complex geoglyph composition. It combines linear and areal geoglyphs with anthropomorphic, zoomorphic and representational geoglyphs of which a chessboard. A chessboard has been found so far in one other location. Stone heaps are arranged in a circular pattern.
Slide95. The north western part is made up of a direction sign geoglyph with a spiral near its base and overprinted by zigzag patterns. At its tip is a gate through which two AMB’s can be reached. Both AMB’s have a trophy head in their hands. Possibly the AMB’s symbolise ancestors. This composition is crossed by a long narrow direction sign which gives access to a meandering lineal geoglyph in the form of an antara (see slide 94). South of this ancestor geoglyph is a direction sign which continuous in a meandering lineal geoglyph which leads to a chessboard and possibly a flower or tree. In the centre of the composition a circular structure was constructed, which possibly highlights the various cardinal directions. Note that if this is a compass their north slightly deviates from present day north. The chessboard may be a symbol for a field and as such this composition may have been used for prayers for a good harvest.
Slide96. The antara is constructed on a plateau east of the ancestors and just west of a valley in which possibly an image can be seen of a head wearing a sun crown. Is this a representation of Viracocha, Illa Kata? The images of slides 95 and 96 together may have allowed the Nasca to ask their ancestors to solicit help from Viracocha, Illa Kata.
Slide97. Main Tentative Conclusions.
Fan-like geoglyph compositions of varying complexity and scale represent local places for communication with the spirit world. Convergent line centres may represent Paqarinas or Huacas used for rituals related to the agricultural calendar. The geoglyph compositions on the Pampa Colorado form in essence one large open air religious complex with the Oculate Being in its centre, the guardian of the realm of the spirits. Certain descriptive geoglyphs (f.i. Mandala) occur only in a specific area, and may have meaning in terms of a clan logo, totem.
I like to tentatively conclude that most geoglyph compositions can be interpreted as places dedicated to communication with the spirit world, either of local significance (like a parish) or as of nationwide importance, the geoglyphs on for instance Pampa Colorado.
A) Local Places for communication with the spirit world.
The most common design is a fanlike composition of varying complexity and scale, oriented with its apex (tip) up the drainage system. The tip of the composition is often pointing towards an elevated spot. Triangular and trapezoidal areal geoglyphs, which are building blocks of the composition, have their base at a lower elevation than their tip, thus they also point up the drainage.
The fan-like compositions are in general not linked to other compositions. They either occur alone or side by side. Spirals are located near the base of the compositions. Zigzag patterns are located in the middle section. They are interpreted to represent stand-alone places of worship where rituals were practised to ask the spirits for instance to provide water or other necessities. The fan-like structures point from the common place in the river valleys (base of the composition) towards the sacred realm, the home of the key spirits. The zigzag patterns represent water or a flowing river. Figurative drawings in part symbolize other needs. The triangular and trapezoidal areal geoglyphs are interpreted to represent signposts towards the sacred.
Thus for example a Nasca procession starting at the common place moved up towards the tip of the composition, where they asked the spirits to remedy their need. For instance they asked the spirits to provide water, which they subsequently emphasised by following the zigzag line downward, which on its turn ended in a spiral, representing rejuvenation and fertility, the reason for their need of water. Note that the whole processional avenue in some cases was etched on the surface as one crooked line.
B) Clan calendar
Another important composition is the convergent line centre. They form large star-like structures with an artificial or natural elevation in its centre. In the latter case I refer to them as radiating hilltops.
An early interpretation advocated by Maria Reiche suggested that the Nasca people used the geoglyphs as an observatory for astronomical phenomena, which had meaning in terms of an agricultural calendar. It is obvious, when superposing the various convergent line centres, that many lines starting at these centres have very similar orientations. It can be demonstrated that some lines are oriented for instance to the sunrise on the summer solstice; an explanation in a celestial context in these cases appears apparent. These centres may represent Paqarinas or Huacas, where rituals related to the agricultural calendar were practised, or where justification to undertake certain activities was looked for.
C) Nasca Open Air Religious Centre.
The convergent line centres on Pampa Colorado are connected with one and other by very long straight lines. These lines can measure over ten kilometres in length. They terminate or originate sometimes in an aerial geoglyph. Such areal geoglyphs may also occur along their extend. They form a pampa wide network with the Oculate Being located in one of the knots.
I propose that the convergent line centres connected by the long straight lines on Pampa Colorado form a single composition with the Oculate Being in its centre. The total composition likely evolved over a long period of time. The Oculate Being may be interpreted to represent the guardian of the realm of the spirits, who with his raised hand welcomes petitioners / pilgrims!!
The geoglyphs on Pampa Colorada are thus interpreted to form in essence one large open air complex for religious rituals!! The construction of these geoglyphs must have required careful planning. The long straight lines likely form procession routes connecting various sacred locations. Starting at a place of origin (Paqarina) or sacred location (Huaca) they lead a pilgrim toward the realm of the spirits which is guarded by the Oculate Being. From there they entered ultimately the realm of the spirits where their help could be solicited.
At this point we can only speculate what the next steps were in this pilgrimage, if any. The top of the Oculate Being hill provides looking westward, a panoramic view of Pampa Colorada; looking eastward upstream the rambla, the horizon is dominated by a high mountain. Opposite this mountain occurs a directional geoglyph, which points to a trail leading over the water-divide towards the highest mountain (2110 m) in this region, possibly the realm of the main spirits. Human made structures (vague indications) may be present at the top of this mountain, which could indicate that sacred rituals were once practiced here.
In summary, the Nasca geoglyphs are arranged in compositions which are oriented upon the high mountains, the source of the life giving water. Most compositions form local places for sacred rituals carried out by a clan. The geoglyphs on the Pampa Colorado form a pampa wide network for religious rituals bridging the gap between the common place of the Nasca nation and the realms of the spirits. The famous Oculate Being welcomes pilgrims, who want to solicit the help of the spirits. The geoglyphs of Pampa Colorado appear of nationwide importance. Slide98. Indications for possibly unknown geoglyphs can be seen throughout the region on satellite images. However, most are just outside image resolution to ascertain their nature, if anything. Recent work with drones has demonstrated the value of this technology in identifying geoglyphs and resulted in the addition of many new finds.
Slide99. Clear images can be spotted at various locations, but are they made by the Nasca?
Slide100. Clear images can be spotted at various locations, but are they made by the Nasca? These geoglyphs may be dated Late Nasca, using the chronological subdivision (based on seriation) of the Nasca style pottery by L. Dawson as described by Proulx (2007).
Slide101. Images can be seen which were drawn in a similar style. These are clustered in a relative small area.
The type of descriptive geoglyphs may vary from one area to the other, for instance the mandalas only occur on the Pampa de Jumana (slide 85). It appears that certain descriptive geoglyph topics have a limited geographical occurrence, and therefore could be interpreted as distinguishing factors between clans. Possibly they should be interpreted as totems. However, the geoglyphs were made during a large time span of some 1000 years. Therefore, the geoglyphs may contain little information about peoples who lived in a certain part of the river valley at a specific time; different groups of Indians could have succeeded one and other. The geoglyphs were made by Indians representing two successive cultures; the older geoglyphs were made by the Indians of the Paracas culture, and the later geoglyphs by the Nasca culture (Fux, 2011). They distinguish the two styles on the following characteristics. The Paracas images were drawn on the slopes of the hills, while the Nazca images were drawn in level areas. Second, the Paracas images are smaller and were made in a naturalistic style, while the Nazca images are bigger and stylised. Third, the Paracas descriptive images are mostly arranged in groups, while the Nazca descriptive images are arranged individually. Finally, it is important to note that not one of the Paracas descriptive images were repeated in the Nazca iconography (Fux, 2011). The Paracas and Nasca cultures clearly succeed one and other in time. Thus, the iconography may have little significance in terms of contemporaneous clans.
It is likely that the Nasca were not very mobile, considering that the livelihood of the Nasca depended on agriculture. When clan totems existed, they probably did not change much over time. Thus, the Paracas images may have had value as a totem for the later Nasca as well. Population growth and subsequent increased pressure on local resources may have resulted in the establishment of new population centres in other parts of the drainage. These peoples declared their identity and presence with new totems. Consequently the totems could be interpreted to reflect the expansion of the Nasca nation in the Rio Grande Basin, assuming that the descriptive geoglyphs can be properly dated.
A remarkable conclusion in a study of the origin of Nasca trophy heads (Knudson et al, 2009) is that Nasca trophy heads were obtained from within the Nasca population. This could indicate that a clan or family group choose one of their own to participate in a head taking ritual, but it is more likely that the heads were taken from a clan living in a neighbouring valley in the Rio Grande Basin in line with imagery on ceramics. An interpretation that favours the existence of Nasca clans appears realistic. The geographical distinct descriptive geoglyphs may to some extend be interpreted to represent totems of the various clans.
Slide102. Descriptive geoglyphs occur throughout the Nasca domain. However, the type of descriptive geoglyph varies from one area to the other except for the killer whale. The latter appears a common theme throughout the region. The descriptive geoglyphs can be classified in two overarching groups (see above), Paracas and Nasca geoglyphs. These groups on their turn can be further subdivided in subgroups which are characterised by a restricted geographical extend (for details see following slides).
Slide103. The Rio Grande Basin was possibly home to 8 clans, which made their home in one of the various tributaries. These clans held the Nasca culture in common; they produced in general everywhere the same geometric geoglyphs. However, they can be differentiated by their own characteristic descriptive geoglyphs, probably their totem. In the areas of the Huayuri, Brujas and Usaka little work has been carried out to date. Vaguely images can be seen, often largely covered by sand or other deposits. They require detailed study before any assessment can be made.
Slide104. Script-like geoglyphs only occur in the Usaka area. One discovery was recently reported by a Japanese team. The location of this geoglyph is unclear, though it was reported to occur near the mouth of Quebrada Majuelos.
Slide105. Little effort has been spend so far on the study of the imaginary existing in the Rio Las Trancas area, where the Chauchilla cemetery is located, and surrounding pampas. The satellite images suggest that the Chauchilla clan used a different technique in constructing their geoglyphs, which observation needs to be firmed up through fieldwork. The images of triangular heads with large eyes are unique as are the circular structures (see slides 99,100, 101).
Slide106. The imagery of the Changuillo clan is unique for their construction of Mandalas. Also, images of clusters of heads on top one body appear to be restricted to this area. The resolution of these drawings are limited on the satellite images due to the intricacies of the designs. Applying the definitions of Fux (2011), the clustered heads were made by the Paracas
Slide107. Humans with large headdresses appear to occur only in the Palpa area. They were probably made in Paracas times, thus essentially predate the main body of the geoglyphs. In this area we also find images of a so-called chessboards.
Slide108. The famous figurative drawings are essentially found in the Ventilla area with the Killer Whale being the exception. The whale is found in various areas. The high density of zoomorphic figurative drawings is unique for this area. Many geoglyphs were superposed on earlier images, thus generations of images can be seen. The early geoglyphs include images of large birds, which are overprinted by areal geoglyphs. The design method of these images differs from that of the later images, for instance the spider, humming bird, monkey, etc. The latter are single crooked line drawings (see slides 54, 72), whilst the former are composites.
The Airborne Question.
The most remarkable aspect of the geoglyphs is that the bulk of the drawings can only be properly appreciated from the air. Many explanations have been put forward to address this feature, including extra-terrestrial inspiration (Erich von Däniken). Recent studies of the visibility of the geoglyphs from the ground, using digital terrain models, indicate that good visibility was an important factor for choosing a location for new geoglyphs (Lambers and Sauerbier, 2007; Masini et al, 2016). It is therefore not surprising that most of the geoglyphs are oriented on elevated spots.
However, some airborne angle may still be considered.
Slide109. Climate information clearly underpin the arid nature of present climatic conditions in the Rio Grande Basin in Southern Peru. North-eastern winds are dominant.
Slide110. Climate-Table: The period January to March is the wet season in summer time on the Southern Hemisphere.
Slide111. High concentrations of geoglyphs, except for those on Pampa Atarco south of Cahuachi, are found on plateaus adjacent to north-easterly trending valleys aligned with the dominant wind-direction. These strong NE-ly winds occur during the winter period from June to August.
Slide112. The geoglyphs depicting “Warriors” could be interpreted to represent paragliders.
Slide113. Weather conditions during the winter may have been favourable for paragliding. Most of the Anthropomorphic Mythical Beings were drawn in “flying” postures. This information suggests that Nasca priests (as impersonators) were capable of going airborne.
In such a model the areal geoglyphs in the high geoglyph-density areas could have been used as runways for paragliding activities. This may also explain why the geoglyphs, especially the figurative drawings can only be properly appreciated from the sky. The gods were not astronauts, but the Indians themselves were airborne.