Lines and Geoglyphs of Nasca and Pampas de Jumana

Background Information:

  • Name of Site: Lines and Geoglyphs of Nasca and Pampas de Jumana
  • Location: Peru
  • Year added to the World Heritage List: 1994
  • Criteria site was nominated for: (i) To represent a masterpiece of human genius, (iii) To bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared, (iv) To be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history
  • Total number of Cultural or Mixed Heritage Sites in Peru: 9

Basic Archaeological Site information

  • Site Size: 450 square kilometers
  • Time Period: 500 B.C.- 500 A.D.
  • Cultural Period Associated with Site: Chavin period
  • Cultural Group Associated with Site: The Nazcan People

Archaeological Summary

Exploration of the Nazca lines began in 1941 by Paul Kosok.  He was aided by the Peruvian Air Force.  Beginning in 1946, Dr. Maria Reiche dedicated the rest of her life to studying and protecting this site.

The Nazca lines are made up of approximately 700 geoglyphs in the Peruvian coastal plain.  These giant pictures created by the Nazcan people depict images such as animals, plants, and geometric shapes.  The images were created by removing a dark top layer of gravel.  This allowed the lighter colored ground beneath the gravel to show through.  There is still debate over why the Nazcan people created these structures.  One theory is that these structures were used to obtain water.  The region where this site is located has a dry climate with little rainfall.  It’s possible that the Nazcan people drew these pictures to appeal to the gods so that they would bring rain.  Researchers believe the Nazcan people would dance around these lines when they prayed for rainfall.  This theory seems to be further supported by the fact that the images depicted in the geoglyphs are also pictured on the pottery of the Nazcan people.

The Nazca Lines are significant for a few reasons.  First, the size of these geoglyphs are unmatched  by any other geoglyphs around the world.  The images of are large enough that they need to be viewed from a small airplane in order to admire the entire image.  This brings to mind questions such as how the Nazcan people created these large pictures without the aid of an airplane and why they built such large geoglyphs?  Second, the Nazca lines have remained intact for an impressive amount of time.  The dry climate of the region certainly aids in the preservation, but these structures were created by simply removing a layer of gravel from the ground.  It’s amazing that they have lasted for nearly two-thousand years.  Lastly, the geoglyphs give anthropologists a little more insight into what was valued by the Nazcan people.  The images illustrated in the geoglyphs are also repeated in other aspects of the Nazcan culture such as on their pottery.  It seems reasonable to assume that these images must have been valued in their culture.

Threats

Some of the figures have been damaged due to the construction of the Panamericana Sur highway.  This highway also provides easy access to the site for tourists which has led to damage from footprints.

Additional Information

Any Alma College student interested in viewing this site first hand should consider taking the Spring Term Course that travels to Peru.  This is one of the stops on the trip.  This stop is not for those with a weak stomach.  The small airplanes will have your stomach doing flips. 

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One Response to Lines and Geoglyphs of Nasca and Pampas de Jumana

  1. Megan M. says:

    That video and the theory leave me with a lot of questions. There are hundreds of geoglyphs and they only listed 3, and decided they all represent water based on those three. Also – how does the presence of these images on pottery mean they have something to do with water? They are showing bowls, not water jugs. Yes the symbols are important, but the theory is unconvincing.

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