Lines and Geoglyphs of Nasca and Palpa
Lines And Geoglyphs Of Nasca And Palpa
Cultural Peru Latin America And The Caribbean Libertadores/ Wari Region

The Nazca lines and geoglyphs form a unique and magnificent artistic achievement that is unrivalled in its dimensions and diversity anywhere in the prehistoric world. This unique form of land use bears exceptional witness to the culture and beliefs of this region of pre-Hispanic South America.

The Nasca geoglyphs are located in the arid Peruvian coastal plain 400 km south of Lima, and cover 450 km2 , both in the desert and in the low Andean foothills. These are covered with ferruginous sand and gravel which has acquired a dark patina from weathering. Removal of the gravel reveals the underlying lighter coloured strata, which contrasts strongly with the darker gravels.

The 'Nazca Lines', as they are commonly known, are the most outstanding group of geoglyphs anywhere in the world. They are also one of the most impenetrable enigmas of archaeology by virtue of their quantity, nature and size, as well as their continuity. The concentration and juxtaposition of the lines, as well as their cultural continuity, demonstrate that this was an important and long-lasting activity.

Intensive study of the geoglyphs and comparison with other manifestations of contemporary art forms suggests that they can be divided into three chronological phases. The first dates from the Chavín period (500-300 BC) and is characterized by the technique of forming figures by piling stones. This was an important time of cultural developments in the Andean region, with strong influence exerted in the Inca region from the north by the Formative Middle Late Culture. The local development known as Paracas represents the second phase (400-200 BC), again strongly influenced from the north. The town of Paracas adapted its culture skilfully to its severe location and achieved a high level of artistic development.

The third phase, which represents the great majority of the geoglyphs, is the Nazca phase proper (200 BC-AD 500). The Nazca culture derived directly from that of Paracas. The Andean towns developed a powerful religious system which produced, along with Moche on the northern coast of Peru, an outstanding culture represented by its handicrafts (notably pottery) and textiles. Most of the geoglyphs of this period are located close to villages of this culture, such as La Quebrada del Frayle, Cahuachi, Palpa and Ingenio, concentrated in Pampa de Jumana.

Two techniques were used to define the geoglyphs. In the earlier Chavín period they were defined in outline, the gravel being removed and piled inwards, so as to leave the figures in slight relief. For the most part, however, the technique used was the removal of the gravel from the figure, providing a solid figure that contrasts with its surroundings.

In general terms the geoglyphs fall into two categories: the first group (of which about 70 have been identified) are representational, depicting in schematic form a variety of natural forms. Many of these are animals, birds, insects, and other living creatures: examples include the spider, the monkey, the guanay or guano bird, the lizard, the hummingbird, the killer whales, and the largest of all, the pelican (285 m). Stylistically they can be linked closely with motifs on other representational art of the period, such as pottery and textiles. Other figures represent flowers, plants, and trees, deformed or fantastic figures (strange creature with two human hands, one with only four fingers), and objects of everyday life, such as looms and tupus (ornamental clasps). There are very few anthropomorphic figures, for the most part paralleled by the petroglyphs to be found in the more rocky parts of the region and are considered to be early in date.

The second group comprises the lines proper. These generally straight lines criss-cross certain parts of the pampas of the region in all directions. Some are several kilometres in length and form designs of many different geometrical figures - triangles, spirals, rectangles, wavy lines, etc. Others radiate from a central promontory or encircle it, as in the cases of the quipus. Yet another group consists of so-called 'tracks', which appear to have been laid out to accommodate large numbers of people.