A Brief History of Ancient Nazca
Nazca is a famous archeological site known for mysterious geoglyphs, but the culture of the ancient Nazcans is not as widely known.
With the excitement surrounding the findings in Peru recently, there are some fascinating and mysterious characteristics regarding the location of the discovery. Nazca, Peru is located on an arid plateau in the Peruvian desert, near the Pacific coast. It is situated in a valley between the Ica and Nazca Grande rivers. Following the Paracas culture, the ancient Nazca civilization appeared in the area just over 2,000 years ago, lasting between BC 100 – AD 800.
The Nazca were thought to be heavily influenced and possibly even arose from the Paracas before them. Their civilization originally consisted of a collective of chiefdoms and farming villages surrounding a communal area, known as Cahuachi, where they would make pilgrimages for rituals and ceremonies. They eventually grew into a bigger society with larger urban cities and advanced farming technology.
Known for their pottery and weaving, the Nazca decorated their goods with geometric patterns, plants and animals which are mirrored in the Nazca lines, the massive, curious geoglyphs that they are known for. Their advanced underground irrigation systems, called puquios, that utilized atmospheric pressure to pump water to their crops is a testament to their level of technology.
Unearthing Nazca: Special Report
The Journey to Cahuachi
At the center of Nazca was Cahuachi, which was originally thought to be a military base. That theory has been overturned, thanks to the research of Italian archeologist, Giuseppe Orefici, who has been studying the site for years. In addition to studying the mysteries of ancient Nazca, he has also spent his career studying the Rapa Nui on the enigmatic Easter Island. Orefici has concluded that Cahuachi was a ritual center and the capital where Nazcans would regularly make a pilgrimage for ceremonies.
The Cahuachi site extends over 370 acres with a nearly 100-foot-tall, stepped pyramid in the middle, making it the biggest ceremonial center of its era. Among it there are 40 other structures made of mud adobe. Within these structures are thousands of tombs that have only been discovered recently, but have since been looted by grave robbers.
In the graves of Cahuachi are an array of bodies with varying textiles, showing differing levels of societal status. Trophy heads were also found with holes drilled through the skulls, seemingly to be worn as necklaces. Some of the bodies of those buried there are well preserved due to mummification.
The Nazca Lines
Outside of Cahuachi there are cryptic geoglyphs, known as the Nazca Lines, that can only be seen from hundreds of feet in the air. They weren’t discovered in the modern era until the 1920s when airlines flew over and noticed them. The Nazca created these lines by removing a layer of rock and dirt, most likely by tying rope between two posts, drawing guidelines for themselves. The remnants of these posts have been discovered, confirming this theory, however their method for creating such large drawings with precise measurements is still somewhat of a mystery.
The lines span over 200 square miles and consist of drawings of flora, fauna and geometric patterns. They have been preserved due to a windless, arid climate and were thought to be larger scale projections of designs that they would weave into their textiles. Among the 70 different zoomorphic lines there are depictions ranging from monkeys, to birds and jaguars. There is even a human-like figure which has been the subject of debate as to what exactly it depicts. Some see it as an astronaut which works with theories of the lines being a call to extraterrestrial visitors.
The realist perspective on the Nazca Lines sees them in a few different lights. One theory believes that they are ritual walking paths that the ancient Nazcans would follow on their pilgrimages to ceremonies like those held at Cahuachi. Another theory sees them as markers of irrigation paths or actual irrigation canals with their designs being a thank you to the gods for fertility. A simpler explanation sees them as part of an astrological calendar.
While radical theories, like the one espoused by Erich von Däniken which interprets the Nazca lines as a landing guide for extraterrestrials, might be farfetched to some, the realist theories are not proven either. The idea that the lines represented irrigation systems seems strange in their eccentricity, especially considering their elaborate system of underground aqueducts. Another obscure theory posits that the Nazcans had the technological acumen to create hot air balloons, allowing them to see the designs they created in their lines. Either way they remain shrouded in mystery with the recent discovery in Peru adding to them.
The Megalithic Baalbek Temple -- An Ancient 'Landing Place?'
When one considers the mysteries of ancient megalithic ruins, famous sites such as Stonehenge, Palenque, and Göbekli Tepe come to mind, though less often are the temple grounds of Baalbek mentioned in the same breath. There, perched 3,000 feet atop a sacred hill in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley, lay the ruins of one of the world’s most massive megalithic sites, containing some of the heaviest quarried stones of antiquity. Still, little is understood of its construction.
Baalbek is located in the northeast of Lebanon, about 60 miles outside of Beirut, making it a difficult place to travel these days. But during the time of Roman imperialism, it was known as Heliopolis, the “City of the Sun,” founded by Alexander the Great in 334 BC. Baalbek became the site of Roman temples dedicated to Jupiter, Bacchus, and Venus, based on a popular cult devoted to this famous triumvirate.
Though the foundational stones and the location in which they were quarried have been known for some time, the site’s biggest megalith was discovered just recently. Weighing in at a whopping 1,620 tons, it outweighs another mysteriously gargantuan monolith from the same quarry, known as the Pregnant Mother Stone, by 400 tons.
The remains of the Roman temple rest on a stack of three, 900-ton megaliths known as the trilithon. Moving the trilithon in to place today would require the effort of some of the world’s most powerful cranes, yet in the time of its alleged construction, the stones were somehow situated through primitive means so precisely, that one has difficulty slipping a sheet of paper between them today.
To put the sheer weight of these stones into perspective, one might compare them to the stones used to construct Stonehenge, which weighs in at around 25 tons each – a fraction of the trilithon stones’ weight.
Researchers including Graham Hancock, find this difficult to comprehend, leading him to believe in the possibility that an antediluvian, or pre-flood, a civilization with advanced technology may have been responsible for the trilithon, upon which the Romans later constructed their temple. In fact, Hancock says he believes the trilithon maybe 12,000 or more years old, predating Roman construction by around 10,000 years.
The site remained a sacred place for a number of cultures and religions throughout its history and is believed, even by mainstream archeologists, to have been inhabited for the past 8-9,000 years. After the fall of the Roman Empire, it became a site of importance for Pagans, Christians, and later Muslims when the Ottoman Empire controlled the region.
In this episode of Ancient Civilizations we explore the perplexing mysteries of the massive Baalbek temple: