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Nazca Lines

New Study suggests Nazca Lines formed Ancient Pilgrimage Route to Cahuachi Temple


New research suggests that the mysterious Nazca line geoglyphs in Peru were used by two separate groups of people along a pilgrimage route to the ancient temple complex of Cahuachi, a ceremonial center of the Nazca culture.

Located in the arid Peruvian coastal plain, some 400 km south of Lima, the geoglyphs of Nazca cover an incredible 450 km2. They are among archaeology's greatest enigmas because of their quantity, nature, size and continuity. The geoglyphs depict living creatures, stylized plants and imaginary beings, as well as geometric figures several kilometers long.  The Nazca lines number in their thousands and the vast majority of them date from 200 BC to 500 AD, to a time when a people referred to as the Nazca inhabited the region.

The startling feature of the Nazca geoglyphs is that they can only really be appreciated from the air, raising questions about how and why they were created.

Parrot geoglyph at Nazca

Parrot geoglyph at Nazca. (BigStockPhotos)

Despite a plethora of research on these amazing creations, the purpose of the lines has eluded researchers ever since their discovery in 1927.  Some scientists maintain they are linked to the heavens with some representing constellations in the night sky. Other experts believe the lines are connected with water, something vital to life yet hard to get in the desert, and may have played a part in water-based rituals. Still others have said they were intended as ‘messages to the gods’, or were created along ancient pilgrimage routes.

Ancient Pilgrimage

A new study presented at the 80 th annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, and reported on Live Science, has lent support to the theory that, at least initially, the Nazca lines were created so that pilgrims could view the symbols and markings along a ceremonial route that led to the temple complex of Cahuachi, a major center of the Nazca culture, based from 1 AD to about 500 AD in the coastal area of the Central Andes.   

Researchers at Yamagata University in Japan analyzed the location, style, and method of construction of geoglyphs found at the intersection points of some of the Nazca lines. They found that four different styles of geoglyphs were grouped together along different routes leading to Cahuachi. Archaeological excavation has also revealed shards of broken ceramics at these intersection points.

The Temple Complex of Cahuachi

There ancient complex of Cahuachi, which sits high up on a plateau overlooking many of the Nazca lines, spans over 0.5 sq. miles (1.5 km 2) and contains over 40 mounds topped with adobe structures.

Ancient Temple Complex at Cahuachi

Ancient Temple Complex at Cahuachi (Wikimedia Commons)

A plethora of evidence pointed to the fact that Cahuachi was used as a ceremonial center for religious ritual of great importance to the Nazca.  The site contains temples of varying sizes as its main architecture, as well as cemeteries where people were ritually buried.  One of the most well-known constructions at Cahuachi is the Room of the Posts, a room characterized by richly painted walls depicting musical instruments and rayed faces. The room contained niches filled with offerings like pottery filled with corn, shells, gourd rattles, portable looms, and painted fineware.

Adobe pyramid at Cahauchi, Peru

Adobe pyramid at Cahauchi, Peru (Wikimedia Commons)

During the course of excavations, archaeologists found an endless amount of painted pottery, some depicting ritual performers or priests, mythical beings, and ceremonial rites where costumed figures hold decapitated human heads.

The Nazca trophy heads were not only depicted on pottery. Researchers found a number of well-preserved heads lining the walls of some of the tombs, as well as llama remains, bird plumage, and guinea pig remains with broken necks.

A trophy head of the Nazca culture

A trophy head of the Nazca culture (Wikipedia)

Two Groups Making Pilgrimage to Cahuachi

The latest study also suggests that the Nazca lines may have been created by at least two different groups of people who lived in different parts of the desert plateau, and who both created geoglyphs along different pilgrimage routes towards Cahuachi.  

The researchers discovered that the geoglyphs were created in two different ways – one set were made by removing the reddish, iron oxide covered stones from the interior of the images to expose the white sand beneath, while the other set were made by removing stones from the borders of the images.

They also displayed different imagery. For example, geoglyphs depicting animals such as condors and camelids were found along a route that started from the Ingenio River and led to Cahuachi, while another style of images depicting supernatural beings and trophy heads were found stretching from the Nazca Valley to Cahuachi.

While there is still much to be learned about the enigmatic Nazca, researchers may be one small step closer to unraveling the complexities of this advanced ancient culture.

Featured image: The world renowned Nazca lines in Peru

By April Holloway



Territory markings and air space outlines so to speak

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April Holloway is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. For privacy reasons, she has previously written on Ancient Origins under the pen name April Holloway, but is now choosing to use her real name, Joanna Gillan.

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