The Nazca Lines - A life's work

Timeless Travels Magazine - - CONTENTS -

The lines and ge­o­glyphs of Nazca are one of the most im­pres­sivelook­ing ar­chae­o­log­i­cal ar­eas in the world and an ex­tra­or­di­nary ex­am­ple of the tra­di­tional and mil­lenary mag­i­cal-re­li­gious world of the an­cient Pre-His­panic so­ci­eties. They are lo­cated in the desert plains of the basin river of Rio Grande de Nazca, the ar­chae­o­log­i­cal site cov­er­ing an area of ap­prox­i­mately 75,358.47 ha, where for nearly 2,000 un­in­ter­rupted years the re­gion’s an­cient in­hab­i­tants drew on the arid ground thou­sands of large-scale zoomor­phic and an­thro­po­mor­phic fig­ures and lines: an­i­mals, birds, in­sects, other liv­ing crea­tures and flow­ers, plants and trees, as well as geo­met­ric shapes and miles of lines of de­formed or fan­tas­tic fig­ures. In 1939 they were re­dis­cov­ered and a year later, Dr Maria Rieche, be­gan a life­time of study and pro­tec­tion of th­ese re­mark­able sites.

The im­pres­sive story of the Pre-His­panic cul­ture in Peru dates back to be­fore the ar­rival of the Span­ish Con­quest. Over many cen­turies, an­cient civil­i­sa­tions cre­ated a vast ar­ray of won­der­ful mon­u­ments all over Peru, but all of them had in com­mon an as­tro­nom­i­cal con­nec­tion. Th­ese cul­tures de­vel­oped ad­vanced tech­niques of agri­cul­ture, gold and sil­ver work, pot­tery, met­al­lurgy and weav­ing. Some of the so­cial struc­tures from the 12th cen­tury formed the ba­sis of the later Inca Empire.

In the arid coastal plain, 400 km south of Lima, in the depart­ment of Ica, we find one of the oldest, most ex­tra­or­di­nary civil­i­sa­tions: the Para­cas cul­ture. This cul­ture flour­ished on the south­ern Pa­cific coast of the cen­tral An­des around 600150 BC and is one of the ear­li­est known com­plex so­ci­eties in Peru. The great Para­cas Ne­crop­o­lis was dis­cov­ered by ar­chae­ol­o­gist Dr Julio C Tello. In 1927 he made the ma­jor dis­cov­ery of 429 mummy bun­dles in Cerro Colorado in the Para­cas Penin­sula. In the vast ne­crop­o­lis com­mu­nal burial site, he found th­ese mummy bun­dles, each with their body in the fe­tal po­si­tion and bound with cords. They were wrapped in many lay­ers of won­der­ful wo­ven tex­tiles, con­sid­ered some of the finest ever pro­duced, and dated to around 300-200 BC.

The Para­cas Penin­sula is a desert within the bound­aries of the Para­cas Na­tional Reser­va­tion, a ma­rine re­serve which ex­tends south along the coast. The only ma­rine re­serve in Peru, it is a des­ig­nated UNESCO World Her­itage Site. This Pro­tected Nat­u­ral Area is con­sid­ered one of the strangest and rich­est ecosys­tems in the world and is home to colonies of sea lions and thou­sands

of res­i­dent and mi­gra­tory sea birds, in­clud­ing pel­i­cans, flamin­gos, boo­bies, cor­morants, terns, gulls, and, in sum­mer, con­dors.

The Nazca Lines

One of the most so­phis­ti­cated of the early Peru­vian cul­tures is the pre-His­panic Nazca civil­i­sa­tion, known for the carv­ings which they etched onto the sur­face of the ground be­tween 400 BC and 650 AD. The builders of th­ese magic and mys­te­ri­ous lines and ge­o­glyphs of Nazca and Palpa cre­ated a sa­cred place. The ge­o­glyphs are one of the most unique and ex­tra­or­di­nary artis­tic achieve­ments, un­ri­valled in their di­ver­sity and di­men­sions, any­where in the world. In the arid Peru­vian coastal plains, 450 km south of Lima, in the high and arid plateau of the basin of Rio Grande, the area stretches 50 km be­tween the towns of Palpa and Nazca.

The Nazca plain is vir­tu­ally unique in its preser­va­tion due to the com­bi­na­tion of the cli­mate, one of the dri­est in the world, with lit­tle rain­fall each year, and the flat stony ground which min­imises the ef­fect of the wind at ground level. Be­neath the desert’s crust of peb­bles, which con­tain fer­rous ox­ide, is a lighter-coloured sub­soil. The ex­po­sure over cen­turies has given the crust of peb­bles a dark patina. When the dark gravel is re­moved, it con­trasts with the paler-coloured soil un­der­neath. In this way, the lines were drawn as fur­rows of a lighter colour, even though in some cases they be­came prints. In other cases, the stones defin­ing the lines and draw­ings form small lat­eral humps of dif­fer­ent sizes. Some draw­ings, es­pe­cially the early ones, were made by re­mov­ing the stones and gravel from their con­tours and in this way the fig­ures stood out in high re­lief. The con­cen­tra­tion and jux­ta­po­si­tion of the lines and draw­ings leave no doubt that they re­quired in­ten­sive longterm labour, as is demon­strated by the stylis­tic con­ti­nu­ity of the de­signs, which clearly cor­re­spond to the dif­fer­ent stages of cul­tural changes.

The images rep­re­sent a re­mark­able man­i­fes­ta­tion of a com­mon re­li­gion and so­cial ho­mo­gene­ity that lasted a con­sid­er­able pe­riod of time. They are the most out­stand­ing group of ge­o­glyphs any­where in the world and are un­matched in their ex­tent, mag­ni­tude, quan­tity, size, di­ver­sity and an­cient tra­di­tion to any­thing sim­i­lar. The con­cen­tra­tion and jux­ta­po­si­tion of the lines, as well as their cul­tural con­ti­nu­ity, demon­strate that this was an im­por­tant and lon­glast­ing ac­tiv­ity, last­ing ap­prox­i­mately 1,000 years.

Apart from the an­thro­po­mor­phic fig­ures, the lines, which are gen­er­ally straight lines, criss-cross cer­tain parts of the pam­pas in all direc­tions. Some are sev­eral kilo­me­tres in length and form de­signs of many dif­fer­ent ge­o­met­ri­cal fig­ures, tri­an­gles, spi­rals, rec­tan­gles and wavy lines. Oth­ers ra­di­ate

from a cen­tral promon­tory or en­cir­cle it. An­other group con­sists of so-called 'tracks', which ap­pear to have been laid out to ac­com­mo­date large num­bers of peo­ple. This unique and mag­nif­i­cent artis­tic achieve­ment of the An­dean cul­ture is un­ri­valled in its ex­ten­sion, di­men­sions and di­ver­sity and long ex­is­tence any­where in the pre­his­toric world. The de­signs are laid out with out­stand­ing geo­met­ric pre­ci­sion, trans­form­ing the vast land into the highly sym­bolic, ri­tu­al­is­tic and so­cial cul­tural land­scape that re­mains to this day.

Quite apart from the geo­met­ric shapes and sev­eral zoomor­phic de­signs, what it is amaz­ing is the ab­stract con­cep­tion of the de­signs, which demon­strate a per­fect har­mony. The in­spi­ra­tion of their work sug­gests they may have been rit­ual of­fer­ings to a god­dess, which even now re­lates to ex­tra­or­di­nary nat­u­ral ce­les­tial events.

One of the best known of the pre­his­toric ge­o­glyphs, called El Can­de­labro (the Tri­dent), is 600 feet tall and can be seen from 12 miles out to sea. It is on the slope of a hill fac­ing the ocean, and was cre­ated by the Para­cas peo­ple by re­mov­ing the top layer to re­veal the lighter layer un­der­neath in low re­lief. This ge­o­glyph is re­lated to the ge­o­glyphs, lines and fig­ures of Nazca. When ar­chae­ol­o­gist Dr Maria Re­iche was mea­sur­ing the ge­o­glyphs she found pieces of bro­ken pot­tery be­long­ing to the Para­cas peo­ple on the site. Al­though the ex­act age of the de­sign is still un­known, Dr Re­iche an­a­lysed the bro­ken pot­tery through car­bon dat­ing to around 200 BC.

What is in­ter­est­ing is that the de­sign looks out to­wards the ocean from the hill­side; it is amaz­ing to see how the Para­cas peo­ple ob­served where to place the fig­ure for good nat­u­ral con­ser­va­tion, with the salt of the sea breeze, the sun and the strong wind mak­ing a per­fect crust of lay­ers to cre­ate a patina over hun­dreds of years.

The wise men of the Para­cas cul­ture, fa­thers of the Nazca peo­ple, were great as­tronomers. They ob­served ce­les­tial events and re­alised the im­por­tance of time, na­ture, and cos­mos. Al­most all their tem­ples were near the ocean, moun­tains, rivers, hills and val­leys, which were con­sid­ered sa­cred and alive. Their phi­los­o­phy was for a peace­ful way of life. El Can­de­labro has a spe­cial ap­pear­ance

when rain has fallen, as the patina of salt which nat­u­rally con­serves the fig­ure can be seen.

The sys­tem of lines and ge­o­glyphs, which has sur­vived in­tact for more than two mil­len­nia, ev­i­dences an un­usual way of us­ing the land and the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment that rep­re­sents a highly sym­bolic cul­tural land­scape. The con­struc­tion tech­nol­ogy al­lowed them to de­sign large-scale fig­ures with out­stand­ing geo­met­ric pre­ci­sion. Set in their sur­round­ing land­scape they cre­ate a har­mo­nious re­la­tion­ship that has sur­vived vir­tu­ally un­al­tered over the cen­turies.

The au­then­tic­ity of the lines and ge­o­glyphs of Nazca is in­dis­putable. The method of their for­ma­tion, by re­mov­ing the over­ly­ing weathered grav­els to re­veal the lighter bedrock, is such that their au­then­tic­ity is as­sured. The cre­ation, de­sign, mor­phol­ogy, size and va­ri­ety of the ge­o­glyphs and lines cor­re­spond to the orig­i­nal de­signs pro­duced dur­ing the his­toric evo­lu­tion of the re­gions and have re­mained un­changed. The ide­ol­ogy, sym­bol­ism and sa­cred and rit­ual char­ac­ter of the ge­o­glyphs and the land­scape are clearly rep­re­sented, and their sig­nif­i­cance re­mains in­tact even to­day.

Dr Maria Re­iche

Dr Maria Re­iche was born on May 15, 1903 in Dres­den, Ger­many, where she grad­u­ated in Math­e­mat­ics, Ge­og­ra­phy and As­tron­omy, as well as speak­ing five lan­guages. In 1932 she ar­rived in Peru to work in Cusco city as a teacher to the sons of the Ger­man Con­sulate, where she lived for three years.

Her first as­tro­nom­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tion was at Machu Pic­chu in the In­ti­hu­atana tem­ple. The no­table rit­ual stone re­lated to an as­tro­nom­i­cal clock or cal­en­dar; it was aligned with the sun’s po­si­tion dur­ing the win­ter sol­stice. She car­ried out more im­por­tant as­tro­nom­i­cal re­search near Lima, per­haps one of the most im­por­tant con­tri­bu­tions to archaeology, re­lat­ing to the as­tro­nom­i­cal po­si­tions of the re­li­gious tem­ple. Es­tab­lished in 200 AD, the tem­ple's main power lay in its de­ity Pacha­ca­mac, the 'Earth Maker' cre­ator god, who made the earth trem­ble and brought life to ev­ery­thing in the uni­verse.

It was not un­til the 20th cen­tury, how­ever, that the Nazca lines drawn in the sand were ac­tu­ally dis­cov­ered. Peru­vian ar­chae­ol­o­gist Toribio Me­jía Xesspe first saw the lines in 1927 af­ter find­ing them al­most by ac­ci­dent, since they are prac­ti­cally in­vis­i­ble at the sur­face. He as­sumed that they were 'sa­cred path­ways'.

In 1939, Paul Kosok, an Amer­i­can pro­fes­sor in His­tory at Long Is­land Uni­ver­sity in New York and the main ex­pert on ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tems of an­cient cul­tures of the world, came to Peru. He was in­ter­ested in the ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem in the Nazca re­gion, and be­came the first scholar to ex­plore the lines in depth. The fol­low­ing year, he in­tro­duced Maria Re­iche to the site and a new hy­pothe­ses soon de­vel­oped. They hap­pened to be stand­ing near one of the long straight lines at sun­set when they both made a dis­cov­ery that would change their lives.

This hap­pened on June 21, 1939, the south­ern hemi­sphere's short­est day of the year. Kosok and Re­iche no­ticed that the sun was set­ting al­most ex­actly over the end of one of the Nazca Lines, so it ap­peared to be a sol­stice line. Pro­nounc­ing the lines 'the largest as­tron­omy book in the world', Kosok then took aerial pho­tographs in or­der to get a com­plete over­view. The fol­low­ing De­cem­ber, on the sum­mer sol­stice, Re­iche also found such lines and, cap­ti­vated by the land­scape and the scope of Kosok’s project, found her own life changed for ever.

With their new in­for­ma­tion, Re­iche and Kosok quickly re­futed the 'sa­cred path­ways' hy­poth­e­sis. In Re­iche's view, which has changed lit­tle over the decades, the lines rep­re­sented a gi­gan­tic as­tro­nom­i­cal cal­en­dar record­ing the pas­sage of the sea­sons and pre­dict­ing so­lar and lu­nar eclipses. The lines plot the direc­tions of the stars; for ex­am­ple, the spi­der (150 feet long) is as­so­ci­ated with the con­stel­la­tion of Orion, as is the mon­key with the Pleiades. The lat­ter, cov­er­ing over 300 feet, was Re­iche’s favourite fig­ure and, like Re­iche her­self (who lost a fin­ger at Cuzco), dis­plays only four fin­gers on one hand, a divine char­ac­ter­is­tic that is found in other draw­ings as well.

‘ The Nazca peo­ple were able to be­come a part of the grand as­tro­nom­i­cal de­sign, ob­serv­ing the move­ments of heav­enly bod­ies and learn­ing ex­actly when to be­gin plant­ing and when to har­vest', Re­iche said.

Re­iche also as­so­ci­ated the enor­mous fig­ure of the mon­key with the Big Dip­per con­stel­la­tion by un­cov­er­ing lines con­nected to the fig­ure that in­di­cate the po­si­tion of this con­stel­la­tion's largest star. The mon­key could also be con­sid­ered a god of wa­ter, since the ap­pear­ance of the Big Dip­per an­nounces the ar­rival of the rainy sea­son.

Af­ter Kosok left in 1948, she con­tin­ued the work and mapped the en­tire area and de­ter­mined there were 18 dif­fer­ent kinds of an­i­mals and birds. She also dis­cov­ered how the Nazca solved cal­cu­lus prob­lems in or­der to trace per­fectly pro­por­tioned fig­ures on a gi­gan­tic scale. Not only did they em­ploy charts to mea­sure small dis­tances and then mul­ti­ply them by us­ing stakes and long cords in the man­ner of gi­ant com­passes, but they also knew how to mea­sure an­gles. In other words, they un­der­stood the prin­ci­ples of ge­om­e­try.

Be­cause the lines can be seen best from above, she per­suaded the Peru­vian Air Force to help her make aerial pho­to­graphic sur­veys. Re­iche de­voted her life to sav­ing this arche­o­log­i­cal site which is unique in the world. She worked alone from her home in Nazca and funded all her re­search her­self, only helped fi­nan­cially by her sis­ter, Dr Re­nata Re­iche. In 1949 she pub­lished her the­o­ries in the book

The Mys­tery on the Desert (reprinted in 1968) and used the prof­its from the book to cam­paign for the preser­va­tion of the Nazca desert and to hire

guards to pro­tect the Lines. The Pan Amer­i­can High­way, a gov­ern­ment de­vel­op­ment, cut into some of the pic­tographs, es­pe­cially the long­est, a lizard mea­sur­ing over six hun­dred feet and so she spent a lot of money lob­by­ing the gov­ern­ment and ed­u­cat­ing the pub­lic about the lines. Af­ter pay­ing for pri­vate se­cu­rity to pro­tect the ge­o­glyps she fi­nally con­vinced the gov­ern­ment to re­strict pub­lic ac­cess to the area, but pro­vided tow­ers near the high­way so that vis­i­tors could have an over­view of the lines to ap­pre­ci­ate them with­out dam­ag­ing them.

Many schol­ars have fol­lowed her in­ves­ti­ga­tions but it is through her lonely strug­gles against de­struc­tion and her pas­sion for preser­va­tion, that the Nazca lines and ge­o­glyphs have been con­served for a new gen­er­a­tion.

Now the lines and ge­o­glyphs of Nazca, with their pro­tec­tion area that ex­tends over 75,358.47 ha, are well de­fined and, to­gether with their sur­round­ing land­scape, make a har­mo­nious re­la­tion­ship that has sur­vived vir­tu­ally un­al­tered over the cen­turies.

Re­iche spent al­most 60 years of her life in the pam­pas. Still re­mem­bered well in the town of Nazca for re­gal­ing lo­cals and vis­i­tors with her mag­netic sto­ry­telling, she is also revered for her un­ceas­ing life's work, which in­cluded clean­ing the con­tours of al­most one thou­sand lines with lad­der and broom. She has also de­fied those who wanted to con­vert the area into an im­mense agri­cul­tural op­er­a­tion. Her stud­ies (col­lected in 60 note­books) are il­lu­mi­nated by her con­ser­va­tion­ist zeal. Her con­tri­bu­tions to the Ge­om­e­try and As­tron­omy of An­cient Peru were pub­lished in 1993, when she was 90 years old.

Maria Re­iche died on June 8, 1998, at the age of 95. She had de­voted more than half her life to the mea­sur­ing and map­ping of the lines. Her in­ten­sive work for so many years was also costly to her health as ex­po­sure to the bright sun even­tu­ally caused her to go blind. Dur­ing her life­time she re­ceived much ac­knowl­edge­ment and nu­mer­ous hon­ours from all over the world and in­spired many new gen­er­a­tions of sci­en­tists with her pas­sion in pre­serv­ing the Nazca Lines. One of her great­est achieve­ments was the nom­i­na­tion of the Lines and Ge­o­glyphs of Nazca and Palpa World Cul­tural Her­itage as a UNESCO World Her­itage Site in 1995, and her great ef­forts in the pro­tec­tion and main­te­nance work of the site be­came the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the Peru­vian Gov­ern­ment.

Since Dr Re­iche’s death in 1998, the Nazca Lines have been faced with a num­ber of con­ser­va­tional is­sues, de­spite hav­ing World Her­itage sta­tus. For the past 18 years, Ana Maria has taken up the task of fight­ing for the con­ser­va­tion and pro­tec­tion of the sites. For more in­for­ma­tion on how you can sup­port this en­deav­our please visit www.maria-re­ or like their face­book page www.face­book. com/ Aso­cia­cionMari­aRe­iche. Any do­na­tions would be very wel­come and would go to­wards the con­tin­u­ing con­ser­va­tion of the site. Please email: dona­ciones@maria-re­ to do­nate.

Maria ...died at the age of 95. She had dev oted more than half her life to the mea­sur­ing and map­ping of the lines. Her in­ten­sive work for so many years was also costly to her health as ex­po­sure to the bright sun even­tu­ally caused her to go blind.

Pre­vi­ous pages: The Mon­key Nazca Line (Im­age: Diego Delso, CC BY-SA 4.0) Left: Map of ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites in Peru (Cour­tesy Maria Re­ich Foun­da­tion)

Above: The Hum­ming­bird. In the ru­ins of the Can­talloc, revered for its as­tro­nom­i­cal and mytho­log­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance, as well as for its pow­ers of pol­li­na­tion, the hum­ming­bird is one of the most de­tailed of the Nazca Lines and is fre­quently found in Nazca pot­tery. (Im­age: Diego Delso, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Left: El Can­de­labro (the Tri­dent) be­fore and af­ter the rains. Above, Dr Maria Re­iche, who spent over 50 years pro­tect­ing the Lines (All images: The Maria Re­iche Foun­da­tion)

Above, left: The Spi­der (Im­age: Deigo Delso, CC BY-SA 4.0) Above, right: Maria Re­iche and Paul Kosok in 1939 (Im­age: The Maria Re­iche Foun­da­tion)

Above: Ana Maria Co­gorno Men­doza with the Peru­vian Air Force (Im­age: A.M. Cog­norno)

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