A Brief History of Ancient Nazca
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.
Laser Scanning Reveals Mayan Complex Hidden for Centuries
Laser mapping reveals nearly 500 ancient ceremonial sites hiding just under the landscape of modern-day Mexico and leads scientists to revise their understandings of the origins of the Maya Civilization.
Eastern Mexico is home to the ancient Maya, renowned for their striking pyramids, written language, and complex calendar system. It is there that scientists first discovered Aquada Fénix, the largest and oldest-known Mayan construction.
Professor Takeshi Inomata is an archeologist at the University of Arizona who led the study. “We did LiDAR, which is an airborne laser marking technique. Using this technique we found Aguada Fénix, which is the oldest monumental construction in the Maya area,” Inomata said. “It has a huge artificial plateau which has a perfect, rectangular shape measuring 1.4 km long and 400m wide, which represents the largest construction in the entire Maya history. It dates to probably 1,100 – 700 BC, which makes it the oldest monumental construction in the Maya area. So the interesting part is that the largest building happened at the very beginning or oldest stage of Maya civilization.”
Having made this extraordinary find, the team recently expanded their search to a broader area using the same cutting-edge LiDAR technology. They were specifically hoping to find sites built by the Olmec people, an older civilization thought to have influenced the development of the Maya. What LiDAR revealed was groundbreaking.
“We found nearly 500 ceremonial complexes, which look like Aguada Fénix, although they are not as big. This distribution shows they shared similar concepts of space, ritual, and probably worldview. It tells us the people in the Olmec area and the Maya area really exchanged ideas and that kind of interaction was very important for the initial development of Mesoamerican civilizations,” Inomata said.
“This is the earliest evidence for the gathering of a really large number of people. Those people probably did not have too many hierarchical organizations, they most likely did not have kings. They didn’t have much marked social inequalities, so those people gathered and organized themselves, then made these huge constructions. This really makes us think about the development and possibility of human societies, not just about Mesoamerica, but about human societies in general.”