Nazca Lines

Ingeneral, Nazca culture is considered to consist of three stages; Early, Middle,and Late stages, and also the Classic Nazca (approximately A.D. 250-750). Oneof the most famous and distinctive features of the Nazca culture is thepolychrome pottery which has attracted attention because of its technologicalrefinement and the exciting symbolism of its motifs. This pottery culturespreads in the area of the valleys of Chincha, Pisco, Ica, Nazca and Acari. Inthe Early stage, these wares did not have much color, but Middle and Late Nazcapolychromes are buff or red and are painted in three to eight colors. The mostpopular choices of color were red, black, white, brown, yellow, gray and violetwith an outline in black. Bowls and beakers were common forms, but double-spoutand head-and-spout jars are also found. Birds, fish or fruits were commonlydrawn on the pottery, and Nazca's religious or mythological features were alsoused in its design.

Needless to say, the Nazca lines are the most attractivefeature in this culture. These large "geoglyphs", drawings on theearth's surface, make no sense on the ground. We can recognize the featuresonly from the air. There are several kinds of figures, such as fish, birds,monkeys, a whale, spiders and plants. These lines spread on the ground morethan 800 miles (1,300 km), some of which extend 12 miles (20 km) long. Sincethese lines are on a flat surface and its climate is extremely dry, nearly allgeoglyphs remain completely intact. These geoglyphs are not only featured inthe Nazca, but also in other coastal areas (Zana, Santa, Sechin Valleys, PampaCanto Grande, and Sihuas Valleys), and the northern Chile.

The purpose of the drawings is uncertain, but it isbelieved to be connected to their beliefs and economical systems. According toanthropologist Johan Reinhard, the Nazca people believed that mountain godsprotected humans and controlled the weather. These gods also affected watersources and land fertilitysince they are associated with lakes, rivers and thesea. Each figure might have a different meaning for the Nazca people dependingon their social class.

The straight lines, as sacred paths, from Nazca toAndean highlands are still used to bring water. Today, these lines aremaintained for the religious merit of the people. The triangles and trapezoidsare made for the flow of water and are placed near the river. People often haveceremonies beside the water flow. The figure of spirals depicts seashells andthe ocean, and the figure of zigzags illustrates lightning and river. The birdfigures, representing a heron, pelican or condor, are believed to be signs offaithfulness to the mountain gods. Other sea birds are associated with theocean. Monkeys and lizards represent the hope for water. Shark or killer whalemotifs show the success of fishing. Spiders, millipedes and plants areassociated with the rain. Even though the Nazca River was located near thiscultural area, river water was not enough to support their agricultural needs.

Some questions are still debated among specialists. Whywere so many lines necessary? How and why did people draw such large figures onthe ground without any aerial vision or aerial equipment? We may neverunderstand the true meaning of the Nazca Lines, but we can decipher pieces ofthe traditional Andean people's belief system from these greatgeoglyphs.


Richard F.Townsend, ed, The Ancient Americas: Art fromsacred landscapes Singapore: CS Graphics, Chicago: The Art Institute ofChicago, 1992
Christopher Scarre, Ancient Civilizations: New York. Longman, 1997
G.H.S.Bushnell, Ancient Peoples and Places Peru: New York, Frederick A.Praeger,1957
Luis G.Lumbreras, The Peoples and Cultures of Ancient Peru: Washington,Smithonian Institution Press, 1974