History : Jun-Jul 2015
DISCOVERIES 92 JUNE/JULY 2015 CARME MAYANS In 1975 Jim Woodman and Julian Nott tried to demonstrate that the Na- sca could undertake manned flights and may have super- vised their workers from the air. Woodman and Nott used natural materials to build a hot-air balloon in an inverted pyramid shape. It ascended 380 feet before deflating and abruptly plummeting to earth, fail- ing to prove this hypothesis. Other Theories In more recent years new theories have emerged that refute the astronomical interpretation argued by Kosok and Reiche. These in- clude Tony Morrison’s idea that the lines relate to hills and sacred sites and Alber- to Rossell’s claim that their function varied depending on their age, shape, and size. He suggested they marked out irrigation projects and divided agricultural plots. But the most widely ac- cepted theory comes from American archaeologist Jo- han Reinhard, who was an explorer-in-residence with the National Geographic Society from 1999 to 2013. In the mid-1980s Reinhard proposed that the lines were created to invoke water— sorely needed in a region as dry as Nasca—through fertility rites. According to Reinhard, the straight lines were ritualistic, and their function must have been to connect sacred sites or places of worship, such as mountain peaks where of- ferings would be made to the gods to bring them wa- ter. Research carried out by the Nasca-Palpa Project since 1997 seems to cor- roborate this hypothesis. It has proved that some of the lines point to underground canals, and has found that some small mounds in the region are littered with Spondylus shells, from mol- lusks known to be a reli- gious fertility symbol. The importance of water to the Nasca becomes ap- parent in the underground aqueducts they labored to build. But in the end nei- ther their rituals nor their efforts to channel and store water saved them from an extreme drought that led to their disappearance. The impressive geoglyphs they left on the pampas are now also threatened: tour- ists, treasure hunters, and even climate change have put these archaeological treasures at risk. As Reiche passionately explained: “Shortly nothing will be left of this valuable lega- cy. We must take urgent measures to avoid their destruction.” Making the Drawings in the Desert BASED ON UNFINISHED GEOGLYPHS archaeologists believe they have discovered how the Nasca people drew the mysterious lines. This illustration shows their method for achieving both straight lines and spirals. FERNANDOG.BAPTISTA/NGMSTAFF 1 Marks Stones mark out the lines, and a layer of dark rock is removed to define the border. 2 Scrapings The area between the lines is scraped clear of rocks to reveal the lighter soil beneath. 3 Edges The darker rocks are collected and spread along the edges to create elevated ridges. 5 Second spiral A second spiral is added and the rocks removed to contrast light and dark areas. 4 Central post A rope tied to a center post and a stick is let out in increments to draw a growing spiral. 1 2 3 4 5 The raised edges project shadows which further highlight the drawing. Lighter colored layers of sand and gravel are revealed beneath. WEBSITES www.nascaperu.com Learn more The surface layer of stones is darkened by the burning desert sun.