Artistic representations of the Paracas people

Ancient rock lines created by enigmatic Paracas culture predate Nazca geoglyphs

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A new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , has revealed the discovery of a complex set of geoglyphs constructed by the mysterious Paracas people of Peru.  The architectural features, which date back 2,300 years, have been found to be aligned to the sunset during the winter solstice, and are believed to have been created to mark ceremonial mounds and residential sites, according to a new report in Live Science

The Paracas culture was among the earliest settled civilisations of the Chincha Valley, located 200 kilometres south of Lima, one of the largest and most productive regions of southern coastal Peru.  The Paracas civilisation arose around 800 BC, predating the Nazca, which came about in around 100 BC. While the Nazca are famous for their incredible geoglyphs etched into the landscape over an incredible 450 square kilometres, the Paracas are well-known for the large collection of skulls, which showed that at least some of their population had significantly elongated skulls , as depicted in the artistic representation above.

The famous Nazca lines, which date from 200 BC to 500 AD. Photo source: Wikimedia

According to Charles Stanish, the director of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at the University of California, the newly discovered lines and mounds in the Peruvian landscape date back to around 300 BC, making them even older than the Nazca lines. In total, Stanish and his team found 71 geoglyph lines or segments, 353 rock cairns, rocks forming circles or rectangles, two U-shaped mounds, and one point at which a series of lines converged in a circle of rays.

Two rock lines that mark the June solstice - Peru

A view of two rock lines that mark the June solstice.  Credit: Charles Stanish

Many of the archaeological features were found to have astronomical alignments. For example, some lines marked the spot where the sun would have set during the June solstice, and the two U-shaped mounds and a larger platform mound also aligned to the solstice.  The researchers have suggested that the lines and mounds probably served as a way to mark time during festivals. "I don't think people needed the signposts, but it was more kind of a ritualized thing," said Stanish.  He added that the lines may have also been used to attract tradespeople and buyers from the coast and the Andes highlands.

Markers placed along one of the Paracas lines

Markers placed along one of the Paracas lines the day before the June solstice in 2013. Credit: Charles Stanish

While many of the lines have astronomical alignments, some others point to special places in the landscape, like some of the ancient pyramids in the region.  The research team therefore hypothesises that the lines served diverse purposes – some appear to mark time, others may attract participants to attend social events, and yet others point the way to sacred structures.

"The lines are effectively a social technology," Stanish said. "They're using it for certain purposes. Some people have said the lines point out sacred mountains. Sure, why not? The lines [might] point out sacred pyramids. Why not? The lines could [also] be used to point out processions," Stanish said of both the Nazca and Peru lines.

The study authors have said that the study is significant because it shed new light on the enigmatic ancient culture of the Paracas. “Social units, labour, and astronomically significant periods mesh, attracting participants to cyclical events in the midvalley zone. This case study refines our understanding of the processes of human social evolution prior to the development of archaic states.”

Featured image: Artistic representations of the Paracas people. Credit: Marcia K. Moore

By April Holloway

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