Nasca, Peru 2014

     At the end of June, 2014; Kathy Stoker (a educator & trekking buddy) and I was across Peru.  We made a stop at Nasca, Peru.

Southern Peru area map

     The main reason we decided to stopped in Nasca was to investigate and explore the infamous “Nasca Lines”.  The Nazca Lines are a group of very large geoglyphs formed by depressions or shallow incisions made in the soil of the Nazca Desert in southern Peru.  Most lines run straight across the landscape, but there are also figurative designs of animals and plants, made up of lines.  Many of the Nazca lines form shapes that are best seen from the air (500 m), though they are visible from the surrounding foothills and other high places.  So, Kathy and I booked an airplane, (pictured below).

Kathy Stoker and I book an airplane to see the Nasca Lines in Peru 2014

     Because of its isolation and the dry, windless, stable climate of the plateau, the lines have mostly been preserved naturally. Extremely rare changes in weather may temporarily alter the general designs.  However, modern humans may do the greatest damage.

Looking center-left, “The Spider” along with the straight lines in Nasca, Peru

     While in the airplane, I used a brown-tinted filter to allow easier viewing of the figures. Otherwise seeing the Nasca figures amongst camouflage of the surrounding desert was a challenge.  It should be mentioned the image above; Phyllis Pitluga, senior astronomer at the Adler Planetarium performed computer-aided studies of star alignments. She asserted the giant spider figure is an anamorphic diagram of the constellation Orion. She further suggested that three of the straight lines leading to the figure were used to track the changing declinations of the three stars of Orion’s Belt.  However, this remains controversial.

Northwest of Nasca, a Polpa-line named “the Kosok Hummingbird”

     Stretching across nearly 350 square kilometers of high arid plateau, these drawings of hundreds of figures range from giant spiders to vast geometric shapes, to enormous monkeys as large as 300 m. The figures vary in complexity. Hundreds are simple lines and geometric shapes; more than 70 are zoomorphic designs of animals such as a hummingbird, spider, fish, condor, heron, monkey, lizard, dog, and a human. Other shapes include trees and flowers. They were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.  I’ve only chosen a few here to depict.

A Polpa-line called the “Man and Female”. A fertility symbol

     Due to the mystery surrounding their exact purpose and the fact that they can only be fully seen from the sky, the lines are of particular attraction to new-agers, ancient astronaut theorists, and alien enthusiasts (much to the frustration of the anthropologists, archaeologists, and astronomers who have studied the lines and hope to provide credible answers to their purpose and creation).

Hardest-to-see of the Polpa-lines on the upper-part of the image, this is the, “Mandala or Sun-Star Cross”.  It is the most complicated and controversial of all the geoglyphs” .

     The glyphs were made between 200 BC and 600 AD, the time of the technologically sophisticated Nazca people, who are believed to have created the lines.

Part of the Nasca-lines, this is called the “Astronaut” or “Giant” (center of the image)

     The most likely construction method involves putting stakes in the ground, tying a rope between them, and scraping the dirt off along the rope. This would explain the geometric shape of many of the lines, as well as how the Nazca would have kept the measurements for the drawings in ratio to each other, by simply multiplying the measurements of a drawing into rope lengths. Wooden stakes found in the ground at the end of some lines support this theory of creation.

Near the viewing platform next to the Pan-American Hwy, two images called “The Tree and Hands” (note the relative size of the buses)

     The real mystery comes not in the how, but the why. The explanation most in keeping with what is known about the Nazca culture is that the lines were made to be walked upon as a sort of ceremonial procession that led to a sacred area where the Nazca prayed to various gods involving agriculture and water. The shapes, then, were never meant to be seen at all, and it was only with the advent of modern aircraft that they were.

Lower left corner of the image, is of the Nasca-lines called the “Monkey”

     Notice that the shapes are usually made from one continuous line.    

Of the Nasca-lines and looking south, this image depicts the “Alcatraz or Heron”

     A viable suggestion is that the figures were intended to be seen by the gods;  suggesting a “We are here! You, in the sky, are you out there?” Others believe that the lines were a giant astronomical calendar pointing to the locations where celestial bodies would align themselves.  (This is still quite controversial).   Paul Kosok and Maria Reiche advanced a purpose related to astronomy and cosmology: The lines were intended to act as a kind of observatory, to point to the places on the distant horizon where the sun and other celestial bodies rose or set in the solstices.  Maria Reiche asserted that some or all of the figures represented constellations. She had concluded that the animal figures were “representations of heavenly shapes.” She added that they are not shapes of constellations, but of what might be called counter constellations, the irregularly-shaped dark patches within the twinkling expanse of the Milky Way.

Of the Nasca-lines, and looking north-west, this zoomorphic design is called the “Parrot”

     The least sensible theory, (though certainly one of the most popular), involves ancient aliens who communicated with the ancient Peruvians and used the lines as navigational devices or even landing fields for some type of ancient astronaut.

Of the Nasca-lines and looking north, this Zoomorphic design is called the “Condor”

     The video below is without the filter and of the most popular of the Zoomorphic Designs called the “Hummingbird” .

The Nasca Lines, 2014; The Hummingbird


      Pictured below, Kathy and I flew over an infamous ruin in the Nasca desert called Cahuachi.   Cahuachi was once one of the most important and largest ceremonial centers for the Nazca culture in Peru. Containing over 40 mounds providing a base to adobe structures, the area is thought to have been a pilgrimage site, its population ebbing and flowing in relation to ceremonial events. 

Cahuachi Ruins in Peru, 2014 (near Nasca)

     While it may have been a sacred place in ancient times, it now often falls prey to looters (seen in the middle of the above picture), who find the burial site rich with artifacts too tempting to ignore. Cahuachi overlooks some of the Nazca Lines and may hold the key to the mysteries.

A closer look at Cahuachi from an unfiltered camera. Photo taken by Kathy Stoker

     Additionally, while flying around Nasca, Peru, Kathy and I got a good look at the Cerro Blanco.  (Pictured below), Cerro Blanco has a legitimate claim to being one of the tallest dunes on the planet.  It is also known as Duna Grande and  rises up in the deserts to the southeast of the city of Nazca.

Cerro Blanco, Peru 2014

     The Nazca civilization once believed the giant dune to be a source of water, even believing some kind of lake or reservoir lay at its center. Some locals still believe this legend and walk up to the top of the dune to leave offerings, in much the same way as the Nazca before them.  In 1985, archaeologist Johan Reinhard published archaeological, ethnographic, and historical data demonstrating that worship of mountains and other water sources predominated in Nazca religion and economy from ancient to recent times. He theorized that the Nasca lines and figures were part of religious practices involving the worship of deities associated with the availability of water, which directly related to the success and productivity of crops. He interpreted the lines as sacred paths leading to places where these deities could be worshiped. The figures were symbols representing animals and objects meant to invoke the aid of the deities in supplying water.  Based on the results of geophysical investigations and the observation of geological faults of recent studies indicate that some geoglyphs followed the paths of aquifers from which aqueducts (or Puquios) collected water.  Pictured below are some of Puquios from the air. 

Puquios like these dot the landscape along the subterranean aqueducts built by the ancient Nascas.

     After landing, Kathy and I explored some these Puquios. (Pictured above and below), While the lines are theorized to have been created for religious purposes, the Nascas’ intricate engineering of subterranean aqueducts was the life force that supported their entire civilization. The system tapped into naturally occurring underground reservoirs at the base of the Nasca mountains, using a series of horizontal trenches to funnel the water on its way to the sea. Dotting the surface of these underground aqueducts were dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of spiral-shaped wells known as Puquios. 

I’m standing in a spiral Puquios near Nasca, Peru, 2014

     While the Puquios have long been theorized as dual-purpose shafts for both cleaning debris from the tunnels and accessing water, their unique spiral design has remained something of a puzzle.

Access to water at the bottom of a Puquio

     Pictured above, the corkscrew vertical shafts aren’t just wells, but a sophisticated hydraulic system. Their structure pulled air down into the underground aqueduct system.  The wind actually helps to push the water through the system, which meant they served as ancient pumps.

A deeper Puquio used when the water-table drops to a deeper level.

     Exploiting an inexhaustible water supply throughout the year the Puquio system contributes domestically and to an intensive agriculture of the valleys in one of the most arid places in the world. What is really impressive is the great efforts, organization and cooperation required for their construction and regular maintenance.

     Later, Kathy and I explored some of the Nasca lines on the ground, (pictured below).

Ground level of the Nasca lines, 2014

      (Pictured above and below), The lines are typically 10 to 15 cm deep. They were made by removing the top layer of reddish-brown iron oxide-coated pebbles to reveal a yellow-grey subsoil. The width of the lines varies considerably, but over half are slightly over one-third meter wide. In some places they may be only 30 cm wide, and in others reach 1.8 m wide.

Ground level of the Nasca lines 2014
Ground level of the Nasca lines 2014, (looking west towards Nasca, Peru 2014)

     (Pictured below), the Paredones (“The Walls”) archaeological site, built just outside of modern-day Nazca, was an Inca administrative center built in the 1400s, likely as a link between the coastal and inland settlements.

I’m standing in front of the Paredones site near Nasca, Peru 2014

     The thick walls of Paredones are essentially a set of compressed mud walls built atop a series of terraces.  These ruins are crumbling in places. They haven’t been fully restored, but it also doesn’t take much imagination to envision their original form. A trail leads up and around a small hill past administrative buildings, warehouses, barracks, an observation tower, and a ceremonial area. The ruins gave Kathy and I a glimpse of the Inca Empire’s highly organized expansion, which saw it establish amazing cities and administrative centers throughout western South America.

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