Advanced Hydraulic Engineering made Desertified Peruvian Valleys Livable 1,500 Years Ago

Advanced Hydraulic Engineering made Desertified Peruvian Valleys Livable 1,500 Years Ago

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Aqueducts and manmade wells built about 1,500 years ago in Peru by the Nazca people are still in use today and supplying water for daily living and irrigation to people in desert areas near the modern city of Nazca.

The Nazca people had only very narrow, rocky valleys to live and grow their crops in, so they implemented an advanced hydraulic engineering system that greened their lands and helped them prosper, says an article about the aqueducts at

They are known as the Aqueducts of Cantalloc or in Spanish Cantayo. The accomplishment of creating them was far greater than the Nazca lines that are so famous around the world.

About 1,500 years ago, the ancient people made between 30 and 50 underground channels to carry water from rivers upstream from the valley and from mountain springs to their crops and cities. They dug the channels and lined them with stones and wood and then reburied them. They stretch for kilometers, the En Peru website reports.

Nazca irrigation canals.

Nazca irrigation canals. ( CC BY 2.0 )

Another site,, says the aqueducts sluiced water from mountain springs at points of origin called puquios. The stone-line springwater collection points are high on the mountain sides and are protected from the elements by wooden roofs. Trenches, or underground aqueducts, carry the water from the mountain down to the fields in the valleys.

The hydraulic system includes 17 wells that have paths that spiral into the earth, where the running water can be collected, says en Peru. Researchers think the access provided by the downward-spiraling wells also gave the people access to clean them or repair them in case a temblor struck.

There was some green, arable land available to the Nazca in the narrow valleys where they eked out an existence, but these engineered waterworks allowed them to expand the farmable areas of the valleys for growing of crops. Among the produce they grew were potatoes, corn, beans, cotton and fruits.

The river valleys in the vicinity of Nazca are just as green today as they were about 1,500 years ago when the canals, aqueducts and wells were constructed because some of these hydraulic features are still used.

The Nazca were one of many civilized people who lived in South America centuries ago. The Nazca were descended from the Paracas people, an earlier civilization that was also advanced.

The Paracas people, forebears of the Nazca, were made by some malevolent people to shape the skulls of their own into grotesque shapes.

The Paracas people, forebears of the Nazca, were made by some malevolent people to shape the skulls of their own into grotesque shapes. ( Wikimedia Commons photo /Martin Tlustochowicz)

The Nazca are more famous for the huge lines that they carved into the earth depicting animals, humanoid figures and geometric shapes. These geoglyphs are just 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) to the west of hydraulic features, near the town of Nazca. says the aqueducts and canals served not just the practical purpose of delivering and collecting water, but also were ceremonial features. Experts also believe the Nazca lines were used in rituals or ceremonies.

The Nazca lines figure known as the dog.

The Nazca lines figure known as the dog. ( CC BY SA 2.5 ) states:

Tourists can follow the paths of the aqueducts, built to form giant curves. Curving waterways ensured that the water would not flow too quickly when the snow melted in the spring, thus preventing flooding. You can walk into the aqueducts, down spiraling stone steps into the wells of the cooling waterways. These spirals are called ojos, the Spanish word for eyes. The aqueducts require annual maintenance, and the ojos allow the farmers to descend into the aqueducts to clear out the canals. Thanks to the aqueducts, this is a lush area to hike, with spectacular views of mountains in every direction.

Featured image: Ancient Peruvian Nazca people built this spiral wells was built to give easy access to water directed from mountain springs to dry valleys.  ( Wikimedia Commons )

By Mark Miller


These explanations of the Spiral “Step Wells” and the Geoglyphs are much more practical and logical in application than the theory presented in the previous Article here on this Topic awhile back. The Theory of these Spiral Wells being designed to utilize Winds and Atmospheric Pressure to pull the water along the Aqueducts wasn’t making any sense.

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Sculpture of a head from 950-1150 AD found at Building Y in the Tajin Chico section. On display at the Tajin site museum, Veracruz state, Mexico
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