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    The Nazca Lines: An ancient mystery

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    The phenomenon of the Nasca Lines has been a mystery for decades since they were discovered in the desert of southern Peru. These were colossal patterns, gigantic lines called geoglyphs,i with some of them proceeding as straight lines whilst some are forming geometric shapes or shapes of animals. These massive lines were constructed by a civilization that became extinct 1800 years ago and managed to remain somehow, and their mystery have not been solved yet. The area where the lines exist is a bare wasteland where very little rain falls every year and where there is no vegetation. The lack of precipitation and plants enabled the preservation of these drawings.

    The oxidized rocks, volcanic stones and pebbles that are constituting the desert have a colour of rust, and with the removal of some, the lines were constructed as the lighter coloured parts of sand were revealed to the surfaceii. When these lines are given a meaning along with their location, some questions emerged expectedly. Along with the questions about how they were formed so precisely from the ground level –which is a greater debate topic with claims even including celestial and extra terrestrial powers-, their purpose was also widely qustioned. What did they mean? Were they designated only for artistic purposes or did they have any functions? Different speculations were made about this issue and the main two will be discussed in this essay. First, the theory that Nasca Lines function as a map, either of celestial objects or of some water sources will be discussed, then the theory that associate them with rituals will be examined.

    The first serious detailed identifications of the lines were done with the innovation of the planes due to the sizes of the lines. “There are 800 straight lines, 300 geometric figures, 70 animal and plant shapes” -which are called biomorphs- and “some straight lines running up to 30 miles and biomorphs ranging from 50 to 1200 in length”iii This generated the need for a view from above and a distance. This is why the phenomenon of Nasca Lines broke out in around 1930’s, as commercial pilots flew Over Peru and had a chance to see these mysterious enormous drawings remaining from the ancient times.iv Although the first to study the lines is Peruvian archaeologist Toribio Mejia Xesspe, American professor Paul Kosok was the first to give a meaning to these lines. According to Kosok, the lines were all about astronomic purposes.v Kosok’s aim was to investigate the ancient irrigation systems used by ancient agricultural people when he went to the area, but instead he found the lines. One of he geoglyphs- he later called them as the “largest astronomy book in the World”- was directly pointing out the setting sun.

    He believed that the lines and shapes were pointing out celestial objects and alignments.vi He was followed by Maria Reiche,known as “The Lady of the Lines”vii Reich is a former maths teacher who later dedicated her life to investigate the lines and she is still currently living in the area, guarding the lines. Just like Kosok, she linked the geoglyphs with astronomy. She identified some of the biomorphs as star maps. She proposed that “monkey figure maps the positions of key stars in the constellations Leo and Ursa Major; the spider charts the stars in Orion”viii Her belief was that this astronomical calendar was constructed in order to predict the seasonal rising and fallng times of the nearest rivers , so that Nasca people, especially the agricultural people would benefit from it in such a dry area. To a large extent, the lines were pointing towards the sunrise and sunsets in late October. In agricultural matters, in that time of the year, dark clouds said to cover the Andes area carrying heavy rains with them and in this sense, determining late october in calendaric terms had a great importance for Nasca people.ix

    On the other hand, later investigations and studies operated with computers indicated that lines had nothing to do with astronomy. According to Anthony F. Aveni, “Neither showed any lunar, planetary, stellar or other solar alignments”x The earlier alignments were only coincidences relied on strong desire to justify the theory that lines are connected to astronomic elements, in one day of the year, the lines would somehow align with the sunset obviously. But what were they pointing out, if it was not related to astronomy? Further studies asserted that lines were pointing the water sources. Katharina Schreiber and Josué Lancho suggested “the people who built the straight lines on top of the pampa and the people who constructed the straight underground channels may have been contemporaries, possibly the same people”xi They believed that Nasca people could not have survived if they would not have built underground canals to access water.

    In a map of Risco River valley found by Aveni, some lines radiating from a single point of water source were pictured. Each of these lines were intersecting with a major irrigation canal, and the most important of all is that these irrigation systems might be connected to the geoglyphs.xii Another coincident connection of the lines with water is that the axes of the trapezoid shaped geoglyphs were also found to be parallel to the direction of the flow of the water. Schreiber also offered that most likely, these trapezoids guided ancient people telling them they were close and on the right track to reach the source.xiii

    The second famous assumption regarding the aim of the lines is that they had a function in the rituals of the people of Nazca. “The desert along Peru’s coast is one of the driest places on earth, receiving less than 0.2 inches of rain each year”xiv In such a deserted area with almost no precipitation and no fertile soil, there is nothing to do but to wait and pray to the gods for rain to fall. A widely accepted theory is that the geoglyphs are believed to be used for ceremonial procession. Water was postulated from the gods or it was aimed to keep on the good side of the gods, and to get through the places that these rituals were performed, the lines functioned either as labyrinths or the sacred platforms itselfxv. This theory was put forward with the examination by the German archaeologist Markus Reindel of the area where geoglyphs exist, Nasca Valley and its farther north Palpa Valley. “Instead of focusing exclusively on the lines, they looked at the lines in a larger context, surveying settlements and cemeteries as well.

    There were puzzling gaps, like the absence of temples and large plazas in Nasca towns. …Reindel began to suspect the lines evolved locally as a form of religious expression.”xvi As Reindel and his team investigated they found out that there were no temples, which probably meant that they were on the lines itself. Cemeteries, settlements and finally the lines were dug. Remains of cairns, stone circles and some walled structures came to light,xvii stone platforms, small artifacts and some serious evidence pointing out that rituals took place there were uncovered. “Two-foot-deep postholes dug near the platforms may once have supported tall masts or poles, perhaps with banners or flags”. Researchers found evidence of animal sacrifices on the platforms, including textiles, corn, guinea pigs, llama bones, and crayfish claws.xviii

    Another strong finding that indicates the lines as ceremonial places is the remains of seashells. Some seashells that is actually found only in hundreds of miles away from the area were discovered during the excavations and according to the ancient beliefs, seashells were strong images connected to water. ‘..In the Andean world, this is the principal way to call the gods to make rain’xix

    A final strong ceremonial element found was fragments of pottery. In the area, many Nasca ceramics with paintings of fish, plants and birds decorations on them were found, indicating that there are elements of ceremonies.xx “Smashing pots is a well-known ceremonial practice in Nasca and other Andean cultures”xxi According to the examinations, these pottery were thrown to the ground intentionally, in such ritually manner. Apart from the findings from the excavations, there also exists some speculations about the meanings of the biomorphs. These animals are also said to be associated with water. Spiders are reckoned as signs of rain, hummingbirds are associated with fertility- also said to be a Messenger from the gods- monkeys are found in the Amazons, an area with rich water resources and Condor is a bird which is believed to be a symbol of the mountain godxxii These symbols of animals were possibly used to strengthen the water cycle rituals of Nasca people.

    To sum up, these gigantic geoglyphs still remain as an unsolved mystery. The two strongly evidenced theories and their evaluations that were discussed in this essay give many people their own rough speculations about the function of the lines, but neither are not yet certain. The only certain point in common is that the geoglyphs have something to do with water, either through manpower or by religious methods. It is most likely that further research will enable some progress in the remaining questions of what purpose they really served.

    Even today, replicas of these ceremonies are distinguished. Here, some villagers from Bolivia are worshipping the mountain gods, asking them to send rain.

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    The Nazca Lines: An ancient mystery. (2019, Jan 22). Retrieved from https://artscolumbia.org/nazca-lines-essay-73407/

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