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PARACAS AND NAZCA -
DESERT CULTURES

Ica, the capital of the region of the same name, located 300 Km south of Lima and 104 Km north of Nazca, on the Pan-American highway, with its warm climate (with an annual average temperature of 24°Celsius) can be visited all year round.

One thousand years before Christ, in what is now the Ica Region, people living on the Andes coast transformed the natural limitations of the desert into opportunities for developing life, knowledge and water management technology. This Paracas culture, that was initially so prodigious, enabled cultural groupings to develop such as those of the Nazca and later the Chincha cultures.

The antecedents of the Paracas culture are not clear; what is known is that the influences it received from the north (Callejon de Huaylas) made possible the germination of a local development that, among other things, produced textiles that are among the most technologically elaborate expressions of this kind in the world.

The broad plains near Nazca are the setting for two important works attributed to these fabulous cultures:

- The Nazca Lines (Geoglyphs).
- The Nazca Aqueducts.

The geoglyphs are drawn on the earth and their presence on the Nazca Plains is still a mystery.

The aqueducts are the solution to the problem of the shortage of water in an area of more than 20,000 hectares.

The great lines and figures of Nazca that had been built on an alluvial and desert surface, extending from the Huayuri Plains to the Nazca Valley, became known in 1926. The greatest concentration of geoglyphs is in the Plains of Jumana and San Jose, occupying and area of more than 1,000 sq km, although it is true that they are not unique, since they are also found in various valleys on the coast (Palpa), as well as in the Chilean desert.

These are huge sets of lines, perfectly drawn and measuring between 30 m. and 9 km., making different shapes, varying from triangular to trapezoid, from 200 to 500 m. in length and from 30 to 50 m. in width, as well as figures with curved lines or in the form of animals of up to 200 m. width.

Most of them were made in the time of the Nazca Culture (300 to 500 years AD), but there are lines that are earlier and later than this period. There is still a lot of speculation about the difficulty of making such huge drawings, but archaeologists have shown that if a thousand people were put together to work daily, they would finish the work in three weeks.

There are various hypotheses and theories about their significance and function. Some say that they were ceremonial paths; other theories suggest the possibility of calendar or astronomical signs (according to Maria Reiche); others that they were the settings for sacred meetings; others that they were linked to the cult of water and fertility. Nevertheless, no hypothesis has been proved yet, since no relation can be found between the lines and the sun, the moon, the planets or the stars. The truth is that their function still remains a mystery.
One question that many ask themselves is: "Why have the Lines lasted so long?".
According to Duccio Bonavia, the intense sunshine of the plains heats the stones that radiate hot air over the surface, this in turn, serving to reduce the winds in the area. If we bear in mind that the wind is extremely scarce here, this explains the great stability of the climate of this desert and the reason for the duration of the lines without serious damage.

Various researchers have begun to investigate the geoglyphs of the Nazca Plains since the end of the thirties. One of them, Paul Kosok, held that they are the "Largest scale calendar in the world". Later, the German Maria Reiche devoted the rest of her life to the study and protection of the famous lines.

Maria Reiche was born in Dresden, Germany, and was a mathematician by profession. She considered that the most objective way to try to understand these marks, without speculating, was by taking their measurements and direction, and analyzing their positions on the land and the spatial relations between them. She supposed that the position of each line and its direction must have some meaning. For this it was important to discover all the lines and record them in detail on maps. Once she had recorded all the lines, she remarked that several of them could show the points at which the sun rises and sets during particular periods of the year, thus determining the solstices and equinoxes (the beginning and end of the summer, and the beginning of autumn and spring). This would be very important for an agricultural people like the Nazca Culture since it showed clearly the time of planting, harvesting and watering. This student of the Nazca Lines died in Lima in 1998, and is buried in the site museum that bears her name.

The theory of the water cult has its origin in the initial proposal of Toribio Mejia Xesspe, who thought that the geometric figures were sacred paths. Later, Hans Horkheimer, just like Tony Morrison, assumed that the plains area is a huge place of ritual with straight lines that were ceremonial paths and great rectangles that were used for religious meetings, where dances and choreographies were performed on and around them. Based on these ideas, Johan Reinhard tried to explain their function, using ethnographic, historical and ecological data, like:

- The Importance of Water
In the area of the Nazca Lines, water is a very important element, and even more so for an agricultural people. Reinhard collects a series of tales from Spanish writers of the time of the conquest, in which it seems that the cult of the mountains to obtain water was, at that time, of prime importance. It is nowadays possible to find in the area of Nazca various myths that speak of the mountains and hills as gods that control the rains and the fertility of the fields.

- The 'Ceqes'
There are references in the chronicles to the use of the straight lines as sacred paths or 'Ceqes', through which the people passed on the way to certain hills or mounds to carry out cult ceremonies to the mountains. In the Nazca Plains, many straight lines can still be seen pointing towards the hills, on which ruins have been found. Others end in great rectangles or triangles, where sea-shells have been found that may have been left as offerings.

- Spirals and Zigzags
The spirals could be a representation derived from sea-snails that, as we mentioned earlier, are important in the rites, since they symbolize water. The zigzags could represent rivers or lightning.

As you can see, we could go on and on with an endless number of theories that attempt to explain this wonder. However, the best we can do at present is only gaze in amazement on the real magnitude of this heritage from the ancient inhabitants of Peru.


 
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