Remember meForgot password?
    Log in with Twitter

article imageMysterious Nazca lines were part of a ritual pilgrimage route

By Karen Graham     May 1, 2015 in Science
The mysterious Nazca lines, geoglyphs etched into the desert of southern Peru, may have been made and used by two separate groups of people as they made a pilgrimage to Cahuachi, an ancient ceremonial site, according to new research.
There has been a great deal of debate in scientific circles over the reason why and when the Nazca lines were created. In some circles, it is believed the geoglyphs had something to do with water, and experts believe the Nazca used to dance along the lines as they prayed for rain.
It has been long thought that the lines were representations of constellations or figures meant to be seen by the "gods in the sky." Other scientists, including Professor Clive Ruggles, of the University of Leicester, believe some of the geoglyphs represent labyrinths, or "spiritual paths."
But new research on the lines has revealed a different reason, one that is realistically probable, bringing into focus Cahuachi, a major ceremonial center of the Nazca culture, first excavated in 1922. Since August 2006, researchers from Yamagata University in Japan have been analysing the geoglyphs along with 100 additional new geoglyphs they discovered.
Earliest Nazca lines formed a ceremonial pathway
It is believed the Nazca lines were created between 200 BC and 600 AD by removing the reddish-colored rocks on the desert floor, revealing the stark-white earth beneath. It was only after plane passengers saw them from above in the 1920s that the figures gained worldwide attention.
The researchers determined that the earliest Nazca lines were constructed so pilgrims could see the markings along a ritual processional route. Along this same route, dated pottery shards indicate a later group of pilgrims smashed pottery along the intersections of the lines as part of a religious rite, perhaps.
Based on the research team's continuing study of the lines and pottery pieces, as well as the finding of the additional 100 geoglyphs previously unknown to archaeologists, they also determined the lines were created by two different cultures.
Did two different cultures create the Nazca lines?
Professor Masato Sakai, head of the research team and his colleagues analysed the location, style and method of construction of some of the newly found geoglyphs. They discovered four different construction styles, all of them clustered along different routes to the temple complex at Cahuachi.
Cahuachi archaeological site in Peru.
Cahuachi archaeological site in Peru.
Archaeologists excavating the Cahuachi site have found archaeological evidence that includes several temples and pyramids, as well as many severed heads, indicating Cahuachi was a pre-Incan religious center to where pilgrims brought offerings. Italian archaeologist Giuseppe Orefici has been working at the site for decades.
Cahuachi was not a permanent city with any population to speak of, but was more a ceremonial site for the traditions and religious cult of the Nazca. The site was also a place to bury the dead, and there are many cemeteries surrounding the temple complex.
Another interesting discovery made by researchers was that some of the geoglyphs were created by removing the red rocks from the interiors of the images, while others were created by removing the rocks from the borders of the images. Sakai said the team found images of condors and camelids along a route starting at the Ingenio River.
Hydrographic basin of Nazca (Ica  Peru).
Hydrographic basin of Nazca (Ica, Peru).
The team categorised the geoglyphs into two groups, type A and type B, respectively. Sakai told Live Science. "The geoglyphs of type A and B are located not only in the area adjacent to the Ingenio Valley but along the pathway to Cahuachi. Therefore, it seems reasonable to assume that type A and B geoglyphs were drawn by the group from the Ingenio Valley."
Interestingly, the supernatural beings and the human trophy heads are concentrated in the Nazca Valley and its route to Cahuachi. These geoglyphs and the human heads were created by a distinct group of people living in that region. On the Nazca Plateau is a third group of geoglyphs, centered between where the two groups may have lived, and these geoglyphs appear to have been made by both groups.
Skull with a sling weapon of the nazca culture in Peru.
Skull with a sling weapon of the nazca culture in Peru.
Peter van der Sluijs
The purpose of the geoglyphs may have changed over time
Archaeologists identify two separate time periods for the Nazcas; the final Formative period, which spanned until AD 200, to the early Nazca period, which ended in AD 450. The smashed pottery pieces were dated to the later period.
"Our research revealed that the Formative geoglyphs were placed to be seen from the ritual pathways, while those of the early Nazca period were used as the loci of ritual activities such as intentional destructions of ceramic vessels," Sakai said.
Sakai believes the Nazca continued to make the lines after 450 AD. "Even after the collapse of the Cahuachi temple, trapezoids and straight lines continued to be made and used," Sakai said.
This study was presented on April 16, 2015, at the 80th annual meeting of the Society for American Archeology.
More about Nazca lines, pilgrimage route, Cahuachi, ceremonial center, two different groups
Latest News
Top News